- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — After nearly 100 violations dating back three years, the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled is operating under a provisional state license.

From 2001 through February 2004, the school violated 97 standards outlined for children’s residential schools by the Office of Interdepartmental Regulation, a division of the State Department of Social Services that licenses children’s residential facilities.

The violations were contained in a study that the Daily Press of Newport News obtained from the state Department of Education.

As a result of the violations, ranging from unreported student injuries to understaffing, the school was granted three consecutive one-year licenses starting in 2001, instead of a standard three-year license.

After a February 2004 inspection, the Department of Education found the school in violation of 31 standards, and the school was given a six-month provisional license that later was extended to nine months.

Citing “systemic deficiencies” at the school, the Department of Education gave the school’s administration until the end of the year to fix the problems or close.

Last week, the state gave the school a reprieve. It now is licensed until the end of this year, but the state can revoke that license and close the school any time before then, if it does not implement an approved improvement plan.

On-site inspections in November 2003 and again in February found:

• Systemic deficiencies with staff development. For example, staff was not trained annually in the use of physical restraints, and many hearing staff members could not communicate with deaf students and staff.

• Reports of fight resulting in injuries.

• A male staff member, who was later named in charges of sexual misconduct with a student, impersonated a student to get another student’s address.

Of the 34 children’s residential schools regulated by the state Department of Education, the Hampton school is the only one with a provisional license, according to the Office of Interdepartmental Regulation’s Web site (www.dss.state.va.us/text/division/interreg/).

In October 2003, a task force formed to plan the consolidation of the Hampton school and the state’s other school for the blind and deaf in Staunton recommended that both schools be closed to make way for a new, more cost-efficient facility.

Last month, a feasibility study released by the Department of Education reported the new school could be ready as soon as August 2007.

Darlene White, the school’s superintendent, said the school continuously has erased violations in the past three years and had worked diligently to comply with the state’s standards and improve services.

In many cases, she said, the school has exceeded the standards.

“By no stretch of the imagination is this the same program it was three or four years ago,” she told the Daily Press.

Several violations in the report weren’t as they seem, Miss White said, adding that the continuing debate over consolidation has made it difficult to recruit and retain staff.

“My concern is that we’re given a fair and accurate assessment,” she said.

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