Blind World Magazine

Grandmother fights to keep school for deaf and blind from closing.

February 14, 2006.
KTVB, Idaho.

BOISE -- A Gooding grandmother is fighting to keep Idaho's only school for the deaf and blind from closing.

Thelma Franek was at the Statehouse Tuesday to present lawmakers with a petition asking them to keep the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind open.

Several lawmakers are proposing breaking up the school because of declining enrollment.

It's just an idea at this point, but several members of the budget committee believe the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind may be underutilized.

However, one Gooding resident says closing the school is not the answer.

"Somebody's gotta listen to us. We need that school," said Thelma Franek.

Armed with 1,100 signatures of support, Thelma Franek is hoping to save her grandson's school.

She says the staff at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind in Gooding has given seven-year-old Kyle the kind of attention he needs.

"I want to see him graduate from that school. They have done so much for him and they do so much for the other kids," said Franek.

On her first-ever trip to the Statehouse today, Franek presented her petition to lawmakers, and together with family and friends, asked them to reconsider their proposal to close ISDB.

"I want to be respectful for the community's needs, but on the other hand, the state has a responsibility to our taxpayers to use our resources in the best way possible," said Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise.

Henbest says she and two other members of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee believe closing the nearly 100-year-old facility might be a good idea. The reason - declining enrollment.

Henbest says several day schools in different regions throughout Idaho could replace the live-in institution in Gooding, thus integrating blind and hearing impaired students into existing public schools.

"Kids would have to travel maybe 20 miles at the most, but they still could go home and night, be with their families, be in their community," said Henbest.

The interim superintendent at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind says current enrollment is about half of what it was a decade ago, in part because parents are keeping their students at home.

"The idea of being able to ride the bus every day to a regional day campus is much more appealing to them than it is to send their child off for the entire week at a residential facility," said Harvey Lyter, ISDB Superintendent.

Nothing has been decided yet, but Franek thinks more could be done to attract parents and students to the school. She's hoping her fight will steer lawmakers in a different direction.

"I feel like somebody's got to speak up. The teachers aren't allowed to. Here i am!" said Franek.

Not all lawmakers agree with Henbest. Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett opposes closing the school.

He wants to consider other solutions, like inviting students from other states to attend ISDB, and possibly making it a regional destination for educating the deaf and the blind.

Henbest, Representative Kathy Skippen and Senator Patti Anne Lodge have forwarded their report to the Senate and House Education Committees to try to gain support.

Henbest says there's no final plan for the land that ISDB sits on, but she says it could be used for a drug treatment facility.

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