The National Federation of the Blind (NFBI) in Iowa has issued a position statement saying the organizations is not in favor of the proposal by the Board of Regents to combine the services given to blind and deaf students. The Board of Regents voted on February sixth to give preliminary approval to the recommendation of a study committee to create five regional centers to serve both blind and deaf students.

NFBI president, Michael Barber, says advocates for the blind have several issues with the proposal. “The first concern of course is, whenever programs for the blind — no matter what they are for adults or for children — get merged with anything else, it’s been our experience that programs for the blind take a back seat to the other programs. And that’s just been a longstanding experience,” Barber says.

The regional proposal would keep the school for the deaf in Council Bluffs and school for the blind in Vinton as two of the regional centers while adding three new centers. Barber says NFBI is concerned that Patrick Clancy who oversaw the school for the blind, was also named superintendent of the school for the deaf and the merger of services proceeded.

“I guess we’re just concerned about the way that this was done,” Barber says. “We just kind of thought that the Board of Regents had already made up their mind that this was going to be merged, and that was the way it was gonna be, and that was the way it looked to us.”

Barber acknowledges the NFBI had a representative on the committee during the five-month process that led to selecting recommendation for the regional service concept. Barber says the group did not get on the agenda for the February sixth Regent’s meeting and then were denied an opportunity to speak before the board voted to move ahead with the pilot for the proposal.

“Keep in mind that this is an open meeting, it was a public meeting, and yet we consumers were not allowed to make public comment. We take umbrage with at that, we’re not happy with that, we think it’s a very questionable practice. We are going to be looking into that, because we do not think consumers should be treated this way by a public body,” Barber says.

He says the NFBI would like to see the issue go in a whole new direction. “We want the education of blind students to be taken away from the Board of Regents and given to the Department of Education. We feel that they are the ones who would really would be better suited for this,” according to Barber. “The Board of Regents, they do a great job with higher education. They are not experts in programs for the blind,or for the deaf for that matter.”

Barber says he his organization will pursue the plan to move the oversight of blind students.

“We’ve already talked to the governor and told him what are intentions are. And I’m not saying that we have his full support right now, because I can’t say that. But he knows that we’re dissatisfied and he knows what our plans are. I have talked to the governor about this,” Barber says.

The Regents directed Superintendent Clancy to proceed with setting up a pilot program to test the regional concept for service to blind and deaf students and gave him a deadline of no later than September. The committee reports the regional plan would eventually save money in providing services for blind and deaf students in the state.

Board of Regents Executive Director Robert Donley sent Radio Iowa this statement in reply to NFBI’s concerns:

“The Board of Regents appreciated the thoughtful comments made by Michael Barber on behalf the Iowa chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. The Board approved the recommendations of the Regents Feasibility Study and Planning Committee which represented all key stakeholders from the deaf and hard of hearing, and vision-impaired and blind communities. The Committee gathered information from public hearings throughout the state, as well as respected national experts. The Board unanimously approved the recommendations from the study and is very proud of the advances we have made in the services that benefit these two communities under the leadership of Superintendent Patrick Clancy.”