In 2009, when state lawmakers prioritize funding for construction projects, they need to move a central campus for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind to the top of the list.
Construction of a stand-alone school, which would serve 350-450 deaf students throughout the Salt Lake Valley, has failed to receive funding for several years. Meanwhile, students have been served in older school buildings that are not fully accessible and have other life/safety issues. Others are served in satellite locations in public schools on a space-available basis.
This past week, parents, students and advocates for hearing-impaired and visually impaired students rallied at the Utah state Capitol for better capital facilities. As one parent told the Deseret News: "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," said Jodi Kenner, a West Jordan mother of two deaf children, who is deaf herself.
Kenner is right. These students deserve a safe, permanent home within reasonable driving distance.
Unlike local school districts that have independent bonding authority to pay for school construction, the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind rely solely on state funding. The school competes with other departments of state government for building, planning and construction funds. USDB received planning money for a school in central Salt Lake County in the past, but it has not ranked high enough on the state building board's list to receive construction funds. A new school would cost approximately $20 million.
USDB has leased space at the 55-year-old Grandview Elementary School at 2870 Connor St. for nearly 25 years. The lease on that building is set to expire at the end of 2009. While the two-level school has been adapted to accommodate students with physical disabilities, better facilities are needed.
The school presently houses three blind-preschool classrooms, administrators and service providers. This fall, it will absorb students from the Jean Massieu School in South Jordan. That school, established as a public charter school in 1999 specializing in American Sign Language, was later merged under the USDB umbrella. The building that housed the Jean Massieu School lacked air conditioning or a central heating system.
USDB students, some with multiple disabilities, should have a safe and stable school environment. They and their parents deserve to know precisely where they will attend school each year, that their school is safe and accessible and that it has needed technology and facilities to serve these students' specific needs. Lawmakers need to make funding of this school a priority.