Supporters rally around laid-off deaf teacher


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Apr 18, 2004
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Supporters rally around laid-off deaf teacher --

Deandra Wood is the only teacher who can directly communicate with deaf students who use American Sign Language in Hampton Schools.

She was laid off Monday.

The notice stunned Wood, who is deaf. About 25 people rallied for her at Wednesday's School Board meeting. Five spoke on her behalf.

"When I heard (Wood was laid off) it just took my breath away," Star Grieser, president of the Southeast Virginia Society of the Deaf, said through an interpreter.

Wood was recruited to Hampton from Newport News Schools in 2005, she said. She's one of four teachers who works with deaf children.

The other three don't sign ASL, so they can't offer direct instruction for students who need it, Wood said. They mostly work with students who have some hearing or oral skills.

So if the chalk board, video or overhead projector is being used, ASL students will have to choose between looking at the interpreter or looking at the visuals, Wood said.

"When they have to look back and forth, they miss a lot of information," she said. "Therefore, they fall behind and get confused quickly."

Since Wood is the only deaf education teacher fluent in ASL, she can sign on or near such visuals so her students see everything at once, said educational interpreter Annette Bene, who lobbied for Wood in front of the School Board.

Wood has helped her students gain three year's worth of reading level skills in a year, said Carolyn Herbert, assistant director of special education.

She said Wood's job was cut based on the district's layoff policy, which ranks jobs in order of importance starting with job performance, transferable skills and seniority.

Herbert noted to human resources that Wood is the only teacher of the deaf who is fluent in ASL.

One teacher had to be cut, she said, because 2.5 were deemed enough to work with the 39 deaf students expected across the district next year.

ASL is used by deaf children who rely solely on visual communication, Grieser said. There are 41 deaf students this academic year, Herbert said, and Wood is assigned to the ones with the more severe hearing difficulties.

Grieser, 33, worked with Wood three years ago while earning a master's degree in deaf education. She said the decision is a "casualty to deaf children," who she's seen progress tremendously under Wood's direction.

Herbert said she told human resources there was concern that if visual children were moved into oral classrooms, teaching methods were very different and could hinder their education.

The district's human resources officials declined to comment on whether Wood's special skills were factored into their decision, because it is as a personnel issue.

According to state Department of Education guidelines, school personnel who work with the deaf should be proficient in the child's language of choice.

Grieser teaches ASL and educational interpreting at Tidewater Community College in Chesapeake. She said depriving students of their natural visual language can cause cognitive delays and severely limit their social and academic progress.

Wood said human resources officials told her she was laid off based on seniority.

The decision infuriates Mary Taylor, the grandmother of one of Wood's students.

Taylor described how her grandson, Jasper, uses ASL and has difficultly understanding information through an interpreter.

She spoke before the board Wednesday: "You have the most highly qualified, educated, experienced, skilled and unbelievable role model in Ms. Wood, and you're throwing her away."

What's the difference?
American Sign Language

ASL is a complete natural human language that employs signs made with the hands and facial movements to indicate grammatical information. It is the first language of many deaf North Americans. It can be interpreted into English and vice versa. ASL has its own syntax and grammar.

Signed English

SE is a sign system that uses some ASL vocabulary but follows English word order and uses many invented signs. Research shows that deaf children have difficulty acquiring these invented sign systems.


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Aug 27, 2007
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Yes I already voiced my input to support ASL and I happen to know Star Griser personally from SVSD club. :) We are on her side.