- Associated Press - Saturday, January 9, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Several parents of students attending the Kentucky School for the Blind are protesting what they say is a marked deterioration in education for their children since the school’s top administrators were replaced in 2014.

The parents tell The Courier-Journal (cjky.it/1PVmKMV) that children who once flourished at the state-run school in Louisville are now failing. They point to a dramatic shift in practices ushered in by the new administration.

Some parents believe the shift is aimed at weeding out children with disabilities other than blindness, such as autism or behavioral disorders.

“We had an amazing initial experience,” said Shawn Herrick, a Louisville mother who removed her son, Cole, 10, from the school last year and teaches him at home. “We loved, loved, loved it. Then it all came crashing down.”

Deborah Phillips, who became the school’s principal two years ago, insists the school’s mission has not changed since she took over and said the school is meeting its legal obligations to educate students.

“We will continue to serve any child that needs access to us,” she said in an interview.

The school, founded in 1842, serves about 65 students on campus and many others through statewide outreach services.

Phillips said there is no plan to limit enrollment of students with multiple disabilities although “occasionally, just as with any child, we don’t see the progress we need to see.”

Frustrated parents believe otherwise and took their complaints to a Dec. 9 meeting of the state Board of Education.

Their concerns struck a chord with Education Commissioner Stephen L. Pruitt, who started in the job last fall.

Pruitt told the Louisville newspaper that he can’t speak to past practices but is committed to ensuring the best possible services at the School for the Blind as well as the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville, which also has drawn complaints from parents.

“I am their superintendent,” said Pruitt, who has ordered an outside review of practices at both schools by education department experts. “I want to make sure we are doing right by these kids.”

Parents say some changes at the School for the Blind are for the worse, including:

-Barring outside therapists from working with children at the school who previously had been welcomed to provide extra services that parents say helped their children enormously.

-Parents are virtually barred from visiting classrooms because policy calls for them to get permission from the principal and that permission is rarely granted.

-Discipline has become more punitive, punishing children with lengthy stays in isolation rather than rewarding good behavior.

Herrick said her son, who is blind, deaf and has multiple medical problems, became so stressed by such sanctions that she and her husband decided to remove him from the school where he had once flourished.

“He belonged, he fit in, he had friends, he did school plays, he loved it,” she said. “He was learning to do things he would never be able to do by himself.”

Bette Lee, the mother of Mikah, 8, who has disabilities including blindness, said he has been isolated for days from other students at the school for acting out, behavior that was easily managed by the previous administration. Mikah can’t describe to her what’s happening, and Lee said she has been denied visits to the classroom to observe.

“We’re worried about our child because we don’t know what’s going on and we can’t get into the school to find out,” Lee said.

Phillips, in an interview, denied the parents’ claims.

She said therapists are welcome as consultants but have never been allowed to work directly with children in classrooms, an assertion contradicted by several parents. She also said parents are welcome to visit classrooms, saying the school is “an open campus.”


Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com

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