In rare unity, BESE candidates blast timeline for Common Core test results _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Kathy Edmonston answers panel questions Tuesday night at BRCC during a candidates forum for two Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seats in October 2015.

The Louisiana School for the Deaf, which is undergoing a review, needs significant changes to improve its performance, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said Tuesday.

"We really, really need to make some major changes there," said Kathy Edmonston, a BESE member who lives in Gonzales.

The issue may come up when BESE meets on Jan. 23-24.

The school, which sits on 116 acres on Brightside Lane in Baton Rouge, serves deaf and hard-of-hearing students from around the state.

State Superintendent of Education John White said in July that the Louisiana School for the Deaf and two others are struggling schools by the state's definition.

Edmonston, who helped initiate the review, said she has attended five meetings about the school.

Based on the comments she has heard, part of the problem is focused on how the school is administered. "They (parents and others) feel like it has to do with the administration," Edmonston said.

She said the school also pales in comparison to comparable schools elsewhere, including Texas.

Edmonston said another issue is how school officials nurture non-hearing students from a young age.

"We have kind of dropped the bill on that," she said.

BESE in October approved a contract for Education Development Inc., to review operations of the Louisiana School for the Deaf, the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired and the Louisiana Special Education Center.

The latter two are in Baton Rouge and Alexandria respectively.

The schools for the deaf and visually impaired are rated F by the state.

The review includes a check of operations and academic programming and includes on-site visits, interviews with focus groups and study of national models.

The $155,000 study – financed with federal grants – was supposed to be finished around the end of 2017.

The school has been embroiled in controversy in the past.

It was closed temporarily in 2008 after reports of sexual misconduct surfaced. The school re-opened after the state spent $531,000 on safety improvements.

That same year the state hired an outside consultant to review the response by the Louisiana School for the Deaf when five people were arrested on sex-related counts.

In the late 1990's reports of sexual activity and rapes among students sparked calls for the formation of a task force by then state Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and a veteran member of the House Education Committee, said Tuesday she has heard the recent concerns.

"A couple of issues brought up by the folks that I have been working with from the deaf community feel like the kids are not getting a quality education at the school," Smith said.

Smith said that concern has been brought to White's attention.

"Some of the problems we have are interpreters and making sure that everybody on staff knows ASL," she said, a reference to American Sign Language.

"It is important that the folks realize that ASL is a language," Smith said. "It is not just using it as a tool for interpretation."

"It is truly a language for kids who are deaf or hard of hearing," she said.

Jada Lewis, a BESE member who lives in Baton Rouge, could not be reached for comment. Lewis also helped launch the study.

The director of the Louisiana School for the Deaf did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.