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Iowa Board of Regents looks to restructure deaf and blind services

BY CASSIDY RILEY | FEBRUARY 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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The state Board of Regents is looking to increase and combine services for the deaf and blind students of Iowa. However, some groups are concerned about the potential merger.

Currently, the regent institutions are separate. The Iowa School for the Deaf is located in Council Bluffs, and the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired is located in Vinton.

But now, a planning committee for the regents made up of representatives from both the Iowa blind and deaf communities are working to combine services for both disabilities and house them in five regional schools.

The regents reviewed the initial proposal from the committee at their last meeting, Feb. 4. The regents requested the committee create a proposal for a pilot school. The proposal will be presented to the regents by September at the latest in order to explore the implications of combining the services. 

“The board accepted [the plan for five regional schools] in concept but wanted to first implement and learn from one regional program,” said Patrick Clancy, superintendent for both the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Iowa School for the Deaf.

No details have been completed, but Clancy said the pilot school will most likely be in a location that currently lacks services for students with hearing and sight impairments.

“It’s the responsibility of that leadership team to look toward those details,” he said.

Michael Barber, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, said he has concerns about the regents’ plan to combine the services for these students.

“We don’t think that there should ever be a merger between the two services because the needs of both groups, blind and deaf, are so uniquely different,” he said.

The federation did have a seat on the planning committee for the initial proposal, but Barber said the decision for merging the services had been already made.

“Some of the members of the committee told me that they really just felt that they were just window dressing and that the decision had already been made,” he said. “We wanted to be part of the process but to be very honest with you, our notions were ignored.”

Barber said the primary concern he has is that the needs of the students will not be adequately met.

“Whenever programs for the blind are combined with anyone else, the blind guys always come out on the bottom,” he said.  “Patrick [Clancy] is not going to be able to give full attention to either group.”

Regent Robert Downer said combining the services for students with these two disabilities will be better because, over the years, enrollment at the two schools has gone down while education costs have gone up. Downer said merging the schools would not diminish the amount of services.

Clancy said the pilot program is a good start.

“We will learn a lot from the pilot,” he said. “Now the next step will be more about actually implementing it in one place and actually learning from it.”


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