November 25, 2014

Plan for regional centers to serve blind and deaf students discussed

A committee that’s studied the best way to provide services to blind and deaf children in the state formally presented its plan to the Board of Regents this week. The state currently runs the School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs and the School for the Blind in Vinton.

Patrick Clancy, the superintendent of the School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs, says the first recommendation is to create one centralized leadership group. “Right now there are two different leadership groups, one for deaf, one for blind. The recommendation here is to bring those two together so they can further plan for the implementation of these recommendations as they move forward,” Clancy says.

He says they group recommends creating five regional programs. “Three new ones, and utilization of the Iowa School for the Deaf and Iowa Braille School as two regional sites,” Clancy says. He says the cost of developing the three new regional programs and using the two existing schools is an increased initial cost of over three-point-two-million dollars.

Susan Hagarty, a parent of a deaf student who serves on the committee, says the cost of the program was not the main driver. “Although I think the public perspective was we are all about ‘are we closing the School for the Deaf are we closing the School for the Blind,’ I think to the outside world that was what this is all about. That’s not what this was all about,” Hagarty says. “It was all about identifying the needs of the students statewide, how they are being met now. And how we can improve that?”

Hagarty says expanding the services beyond the two current specialty schools seems like the natural solution. “When you talk about the low incidence of these disabilities and how rural Iowa is and how spread out we are, and because I work as a parent advocate I’ll tell you the quality of service varies so widely across the state and it’s very unfortunate,” Hagarty says.

“So, the concept of regional centers would utilize the expertise that’s already available out of Vinton or out of Council Bluffs, and make things available to families all across the state.” Hagarty says studies show that parent involvement in any type of education helps students improve and that is another advantage of having regional centers where parents can more easily participate with their kids.

Brook Nolin of Spencer is the parent of a blind student and member of the committee. Nolin says he was impressed by the way the groups from both the deaf and blind school worked together. “Both of these groups were wanting the best for the children out there. They want the best available resources, the best available tools, best available facilities, best available support, and the best available technology for the children across the state of Iowa,” Nolin says.

“So no matter what side or where you were coming from, we had common agreement we wanted to do what was best for the children across Iowa.” The recommendation of the committee to create five regional centers is preliminarily projected to save just over two-point-four million dollars after it is implemented. The regents will take action on the recommendation at its February meeting.

In addition to the Iowa students served, the school is also home to about a dozen hearing-impaired students from Nebraska as the Nebraska School for the Deaf in Omaha closed in 1998.