About 200 deaf people and their supporters rallied in Montpelier Saturday and called on the governor and the Legislature to re-open the closed Austine School for the Deaf.
The school shut its doors this summer due to financial troubles. State officials say the education needs of deaf children can meet through mainstream programs in public schools.
But the protesters who marched on the Statehouse yesterday say deaf children need a learning environment with their peers that’s based on American sign language.
Berlin resident Evelyn Dixon’s 3-year-old son was born deaf. She says he is sometimes isolated in pre-school and not learning as much as he could.
“Our son needs options,” she said. “Right now he has one option: to be mainstreamed. We would prefer him to be in a language-rich environment, which would be a deaf school. “
Bill Hudson is an Austine graduate who works as a vocational education specialist with the state. Speaking through an interpreter, Hudson said he knows the state faces tough financial times.
“My department is also looking at budget cuts as well. But there has to be a way,” he said. “Education is a priority. Hearing kids, deaf kids, it doesn’t matter – we have to make education a priority. We’re not closing schools for hearing children but we are closing the school for the deaf kids. So we’ve got to find some way to keep the school open and the program running.”
The rally organizers want the state to pick up Austine’s debt and re-open the school as a state institution. But the Shumlin administration says that’s not likely to happen.
The protesters say they’ll take their case to the Legislature this winter.