Deaf Education in Crisis: The Challenges Faced by Delaware School for the Deaf

As the new year began, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Delaware was left reeling after a sudden change was made to the job posting for the Director of Statewide Programs. The posting, which had originally included the Delaware School for the Deaf as part of the Director’s responsibilities, was quietly modified to exclude the school without any explanation or consultation.

Despite repeated emails to Christina School District administration asking for clarification and reasoning behind the change, there was no response. The Delaware School for the Deaf was left feeling marginalized and ignored by the decision-making process, potentially losing out on qualified out-of-state applicants seeking to become school leaders of Statewide Programs for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind.

The lack of communication and transparency did not end there, it extended to the proposed restructuring of the Delaware Statewide Programs leadership team. The Christina School District made this decision without consulting the affected school or the community, leaving them no say in the formation of a new structure. As a result, they are forced to place their trust in a reorganized system that was decided without their involvement or the community’s input.

The situation has left many in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community feeling frustrated and disheartened. They are calling for greater transparency and collaboration in decision-making processes that impact their education and their futures. As of now, the Delaware School for the Deaf is left in limbo, uncertain of its future and the support it can expect from the Statewide Programs leadership team.

Timeline of Events:

  • December 19th, 2022 – The Director of Delaware Statewide Programs announced they are stepping down effective Jan 20th, 2023
  • Jan 9th, 2023 – The posting for the Director of Statewide Programs was posted but was modified to exclude the Delaware School for the Deaf as part of the Statewide Programs’ Director’s list of responsibilities.

Director position showing before and after responsibility change circled.

  • Jan 19th, 2023 – March, 2023 – Repeated emails to Christina School District administration asking for clarity and why the posting was changed. No response.
  • March 14th, 2023 – During a board meeting, two individuals brought attention to a concerning situation and requested answers. The board members appeared to be unaware of the matter, and the Superintendent responded by expressing his willingness to come to the school and provide clarification.
  • March 21st, 2023 – The Delaware Statewide Programs leadership team held a meeting with the District Superintendent and the Director of Special Education. The discussion led to the following conclusions:
    • There would be no Statewide Director to oversee  all programs and services.
    • The Statewide Director position would be moved to only oversee the Outreach Coordinators and report directly to the Christina School District Director of Special Education.
    • The two school leaders at DSD and the Dean of Students in the Dorm would also report directly to the Christina School District Director of Special Education.

It was clear that the proposed changes to the structure of the Statewide Programs for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind were made without consulting the school leaders or the community. The lack of input from the individuals who know the school’s needs and operations the best raises concerns about the effectiveness of the new structure.

  • Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 – The District Superintendent Dan Shelton and Director of Special Education Becky Ryan visited Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) and held a meeting with the staff.

Main points and Takeaways

      • The Superintendent began by discussing how the Christina School District (CSD) administers the Delaware Autism Program (DAP), which is a Statewide and State-funded program like Delaware Statewide Programs for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind.
      • In March 2019, an audit identified “excessive overtime” and other financial issues within the Delaware Autism Program (DAP) program.
      • Consequently, on January 1st, 2023, The Delaware Autism Program (DAP) became The Delaware Office of Statewide Autism Programs and is now part of the Delaware Department of Education (DOE).
      • However, it was said the leadership change that CSD is implementing is unrelated to the DAP issue.
      • CSD considers DSD as part of Statewide but does not appear to recognize Outreach as a separate entity.
      • The Superintendent claims that “nothing will change internally” except for the people reporting structure.
      • When asked why they are making these changes, the Superintendent could not give a definitive answer other than that it is how “other schools in the district operate.”
      • During the meeting, when questioned why DSD was removed from the SWP Director Job posting, the Superintendent stated that he received feedback from “other agencies,” but it is unclear who these agencies were.

April 4th, 2023 – At another school board meeting concerns were once again raised about DSD being removed from the Statewide Programs Director Job posting, which may have led to a loss of qualified out-of-state applicants who are seeking to become school leaders of the deaf. There were also concerns about the decision to restructure the SWP leadership team without input from the DSD community.

May 1st, 2023 – Despite voicing all these concerns, as of present day, the Delaware Statewide Programs still does not have a director, and the position is said to still be only overseeing the Outreach coordinators. The job posting has been posted again but still does not include DSD, indicating that nothing has changed. This situation continues to unfold, with many unanswered questions and concerns from the Statewide community and supporters of the deaf community.

May 9th, 2023 – Saw a constructive meeting between Dan Shelton, Becky Ryan, and representatives from the DSEA, discussing matters on behalf of the Delaware Statewide Programs.

Main points and Takeaways

      • The anticipated leadership transition is proceeding as planned, with the underlying motivations now clarified and understood.
      • There was an admittance that some past situations could have handled differently, which was viewed as a positive step.
      • There is an acknowledgment of the need for improved collaboration and working together to figure out what’s best for the organization, the community, and outside groups.
      • The focus right now is on finding a new Director and the next step is the interview process.

Visual overview of Delaware Statewide Programs (SWP) 

The Delaware Statewide Programs (SWP) is a Statewide organization in Delaware that includes the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD), its dormitory, and the Outreach Services program, providing education and support for deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind students both locally and Statewide. 

DSD current administration structure change showing Statewide at top with DSD and Outreach programs under them

It’s important to clarify that the Delaware School for the Deaf and the Statewide Programs are not programs of the Christina School District (CSD). Rather, they are statewide programs that are administered by the Local Education Agency (LEA), which is the Christina School District, assigned by the Delaware Department of Education (DOE). As such, decisions regarding the leadership team restructuring and any changes to the programs should include input from the wider community, not just the Christina School District.

Current Leadership Structure

At the highest level of the Delaware Statewide Programs leadership structure, the SWP Director oversees five school leaders who manage the various programs and services offered deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind students both locally and Statewide.

Proposed structure changes without DSD director oversight as previously done.

Proposed Leadership Restructuring

Under the proposed restructuring, the SWP Director position would oversee only the Outreach Coordinators, removing the topmost official overseeing all of the associated programs. As a result, DSD’s two school leaders and the Dean of Students will report directly to CSD. 

The Problems with CSD’s Administrative Change

  • Statewide has evolved to become the umbrella organization in which DSD, Outreach, and others operate under, and one Director at the top leads, organizes, and coordinates the leadership team. The proposed restructuring is a setback to years of progress.
  • The loss of crucial leadership, expertise, and oversight for DSD could create gaps in the provision of deaf education to DHH and deaf-blind students. The Director of Special Education at CSD, who will oversee the DSD school leaders and the Dean of Students, does not have experience in deaf education, which could limit the development of critical programs, resources, and the overall quality of education.
  • The proposed restructuring could lead to significant liability through both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a result, the proposed restructuring has become a matter of concern for the DHH community. It is important to address these issues to ensure that the education and well-being of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Delaware are protected and supported.
  • The absence of meaningful input from the deaf community perpetuates years of deaf oppression, and we continue to have no seat at the table.
  • The proposed restructuring will result in a loss of autonomy and decision-making ability, which will negatively impact the ability to serve deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind students across the State effectively.
  • The program is unique in that the student population shares similar life experiences, culture, language, and struggles as many of the school leaders and staff, and changes have a greater impact on the program than any other Statewide program or school under the District.
  • The restructure will cause reporting confusion among specialists, teachers, staff, and others in the department.
  • Having school leaders report directly to the district administration could lead to a less supportive work environment, and without a Director to oversee the management of funds and personnel, staff, teachers, and paraprofessionals may feel unsupported in their roles.

What the Delaware Statewide Programs are asking for

  • Maintain the current administrative team structure of the Delaware Statewide Programs that has been successful for many years.
  • Ensure transparency, open communication, and meaningful stakeholder engagement to ensure decisions affecting the program are made with the best interests of all parties involved.
  • Reinstate the Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) as part of the SWP Director job posting to prevent the loss of qualified applicants and ensure continued strong leadership for the program.

The infographic below is intended to be shared with others to provide a visual guide to the current and proposed SWP leadership structures, as well as the larger organizational structure of the program. By sharing this infographic, you can help spread awareness of this issue and show others how they can support us. If you would like to take action and show your support, please reach out to the contacts listed at the bottom of the infographic.