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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Triplets Abby, Ben and Colin Poole try to catch the eye of legislators at the Capitol Tuesday.

Parents and advocates for Utah's deaf children are tired of having poor school space and having state lawmakers show no interest in doing anything about it.

About 100 people rallied Tuesday to tell legislators — again — this time using placards and speeches on the Capitol steps.

The situation deaf students face simply would not be tolerated by any other group of constituents, said Jodi Kinner, a deaf West Jordan mother of two deaf children and advocate who said she has been trying to make the point for more than 10 years.

"The most critical need is proper space," Kinner said through an interpreter. "Kids have to be moved around every year, and much of the space we do have is literally falling apart. All children deserve an excellent education. Deaf children aren't the exception, and they're as worthy an expenditure as any new highway, and a far better investment."

It wouldn't be so bad if deaf students were getting the same benefits as hearing children, Kinner and others at the rally said, noting that they have no place to call a permanent home.

"We're in one building for a few years, then they send us to a different building. And the buildings are old, and they're kind of crumbling," said a 10th-grader who would like to finish high school without moving again. "We really want to go to a school that's nice, where we can stay," said Whitney Ingram.

She is among 2,100 Utah children who are deaf or blind. About 400 attend regular public schools along the Wasatch Front. The focus of the rally is about 80 children who will be moved to temporary classrooms this fall.

The protesters managed to catch the ear of at least one legislator. Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, said her fellow lawmakers have ignored the problem long enough.

The rally should help bring attention and perhaps a different outcome when lawmakers reconvene in January, Johnson said. "I'm hoping that these parents and teachers and the advocates being more vocal, more visible, will make them harder to deny."

State law prohibits any public agency, including the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, to lobby lawmakers.

"But parents can, and we'll be doing all we can to make sure they get the message," Kinner said. "And we welcome anyone who'd like to help us. The more of us who speak out, the louder we get."


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com