A special message from Jerry Covell: 25 Years After DPN, Deaf STILL CAN’T?

 Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A special message from Jerry Covell:

25 Years After DPN, Deaf STILL CAN’T?

Jerry Covell

Next month, I will be participating in a 25th anniversary celebration of the Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University where I was one of the student leaders who protested against the Board of Trustees to prove to the world that a qualified deaf person can become a president of Gallaudet University and that “deaf people can do anything but hear”. Yet, a few weeks ago a deplorable incident occurred at a school for the deaf... Now we are basically being told “deaf people cannot do anything”. Such oppression and bigotry actually happened at the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD), committed by a hearing principal and certain hearing co-workers on January 17, 2013. It is just unbelievable that this oppression is still happening in this day and age.

A bit of history is necessary to understand why it happened. It all started last summer when a certain group of hearing teachers and administrators at ISD were pushing for Cued Speech* as a teaching philosophy to be utilized in place of Visual Phonics which was widely used for few years and has been unsuccessful. Instead of teaching deaf and hard of hearing children in their natural visual language, American Sign Language, another auditory based teaching philosophy, Cued Speech, was arbitrarily implemented in August 2012 by a former superintendent a few days prior to her resignation, without the input of the entire group of educators at ISD and the deaf community. This, as a result, stunned the deaf community and caused two different camps of educators to be formed at the Illinois School for the Cued Speech Deaf. This created an adverse environment at the school that is hostile to the deaf community. The Language Planning Committee was re-activated to develop a language policy for the school to be applied during instruction. This policy must be submitted in writing by the end of this school year for approval. This committee was stacked with Cued Speech supporters and it took an interim superintendent to force a more balanced committee by having more deaf and hearing teachers on the committee who prefer a different teaching philosophy. Cued Speech was intended to be used only during language and reading classes, but it is currently used all day during class time.

The shocking incident happened on January 17, 2013 immediately after the Language Planning Committee meeting. There were several people in the room, however the focus will be on four individuals:

Fara Harper – deaf educator, Pre-K to 8th

Hearing principal of Pre-K to 8th

Hearing Reading Specialist

Hearing educator, Pre-K to 8th

Fara Harper has a master’s degree and is in her 8th year teaching at the ISD. She is a very popular and well-liked teacher at the school. Fara, the only deaf teacher in pre-K to 8th, is a highly qualified deaf teacher who is trained to deal with students with a variety of hearing loss and communication modes. Fara was asked why she would not wholeheartedly support cued speech and she explained her position regarding American Sign Language in the classroom when questioned by the three hearing individuals (these three are staunch supporters of cued speech). Fara was “challenged” on how she would deal with a child in her classroom who would need auditory stimulation to which she responded that she would address the child’s auditory needs by bringing in appropriate professionals such as an audiologist and/or a speech-language pathologist to work on the child’s speaking/listening skills, as well as English language development. Somehow this led to a comment made by the principal that Fara would not have to worry about dealing with those types of students (those who need auditory stimulation). The principal was talking about her own adopted son who has a hearing loss who is expected to be in Fara’s class this coming fall. Of course, Fara was puzzled by that comment and asked the principal: “Is it because I am deaf?” The principal replied “Yes”. Fara was shocked and offended. There is no misunderstanding that the principal intentionally gave the impression that Fara is NOT QUALIFIED to teach the principal’s son because she is DEAF and does not speak.

This is not something that can be resolved through an apology or through any disciplinary actions other than termination. The principal has to be terminated for her unacceptable comment and attitude toward Fara as a deaf person. If this is how the principal views Fara, that is, negatively, then she has the same view of other deaf teachers, generally. Two other individuals in the room (the hearing Reading Specialist and the hearing educator) are equally guilty because they did not stop the principal’s negative and condescending comment. They are as guilty as the principal because they are accomplices to it and have participated in such prejudices. Those three hearing individuals have been bullying, harassing, jabbing, patronizing and condescending to deaf co-workers, deaf parents, deaf students and the deaf community (also to hearing teachers who have a deaf-heart). Those kind of comments and attitudes are not acceptable from ANYONE, especially those who teach, train and prepare deaf and hard of hearing children to become independent and self-sufficient. Such demeaning comments, attitudes and actions have profound effects on our deaf and hard of hearing students. Those children will grow up thinking they CAN’T, because their popular and well-liked deaf teacher CAN’T. We will no longer be subjugated to those kind of people and allow them to continue the plantation mentality to keep deaf people powerless. Therefore, we expect Illinois School for the Deaf to sever ties with those three hearing individuals (the hearing principal, the hearing Reading Specialist and the hearing educator), as there is no place for them there.

I thought that, 25 years ago, we changed hearing people’s views about deaf people, and I am extremely saddened to find out that their views may have not truly changed. Changes must happen… It starts with you, so please share your views with:

Governor Quinn Office of the Governor 207 State House Springfield, IL 62706 http://www2.illinois.gov/gov/pages/contactthegovernor.aspx (can write letter online) Ryan Croke—Deputy Chief of Staff (his parents are deaf) Office of the Governor 207 State House Springfield, IL 62706 Ryan.croke@illinois.gov Joan Forney – Acting Superintendent at ISD 322 WestWinds Drive Jacksonville, IL 62650 Kris Smith—DVRS Deputy Director kris.smith@illinois.gov Michelle Saddle—DHS Secretary michelle.saddler@illinois.gov

*A bit of background information regarding Cued Speech... It is an auditory based communication mode that allows visual pictures of speech sounds and sound patterns that are used in the English language. This mode typically benefits those children who have auditory verbal training with residual hearing and have the ability to understand and/or lipread speech that would assist in their English language acquisition. Those students are commonly known as hard of hearing who are equipped with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Cued Speech does not benefit those who have significant hearing loss and/or cannot understand and/or lipread speech in a normal conversational tone, so they lose out on other teaching strategies to learn English. Cued Speech is currently used at the Illinois School for the Deaf with all students, regardless of whether it benefits the child or not, and this violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that states that instruction shall be in the child’s language and communication mode.


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