By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — More than 15 parents and hard of hearing supporters spoke before the Dearborn Board of Education April 13, pleading their case to keep the district’s Total Communications Program.
Last month the district announced the program will be eliminated at the end of the school year. Meetings for parents were held with Supt. Brian Whiston and Special Education Director Michael Shelton March 12 and 13 to discuss the closing of the program.
”It was just not being run the way we believe it should be run,” Shelton said. ”We believe teachers are not embracing the total communications philosophy we advertise.”
The parents in attendance voiced their concerns about what would happen to their children with the program ending.
“We’re being told that you as a group think that we’re not happy with the Total Communications Program and I think you need to hear our story,” parent Christy Bishop said. Her son joined TCP four years ago from Livonia.
“We love, love, love the program,” Bishop said. “Zach has done nothing but thrive. Within a few weeks of being under Christine Carter, Zach was potty trained, he had a language and had structure in his life.”
President of Michigan Hands and Voices Janel Frost was in attendance at the meeting and spoke to the board as a parent who also has a deaf child.
“Since the announcement of the program closing many parents have been calling our organization,” she said. “What that means to these children is that they may have to go to their district and be the only one on that classroom who may speak a different language.
“The only one who they may communicate with is that interrupter. What kind of social life or mental stability is that for a child growing up?”
Parent Steven Lara spoke to the board and told them that the TCP in Dearborn is a true gem this year.
“There are many special needs and deaf students in the program that will end up going from a program that suits their needs to a mainstream, all oral program in a regular program,” Lara said. “The difference in community that it will pose is huge.”
Jill Newan, a hard-of-hearing parent herself, attended school with an oral program and explained to the board how hard communication is for the deaf community.
“I went to a mainstream school and I was the only one there who was deaf and I always felt left out because I wasn’t social,” she said. “If you take away the program it would be devastating for the kids, especially at a young age.”
After the parents spoke the board continued to conduct its regular meeting. Whiston told parents in attendance that the board did not discuss the hearing program because it was not on that night’s agenda.
“Since the announcement of the closing, parents have asked me to reconsider that decision and gave me some information to read,” Whiston said. “I have been meeting with staff and board members and will have a report to everybody in the near future.”
The goal of the Total Communications Program is to promote the development of English Language skills and academic achievement using American Sign Language, finger spelling, language and speech development and speech reading.
There are 33 students in the program, 10 of whom are from Dearborn including five in elementary, one in middle school and four in high school. Dearborn High students will be able to continue the program until they graduate.
Students who live out of the Dearborn district will have to go to their local districts where arrangements will need to be made by the school they attend.
Detroit Public Schools is an other option for parents who still want their children to attend a deaf and hard-of-hearing program.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)