Loud and Clear: Students of Color Fight to Save Chicago's Deaf Education Program

By Lydersen, Kari | Colorlines Magazine, January-February 2007 | Go to article overview

Loud and Clear: Students of Color Fight to Save Chicago's Deaf Education Program


Lydersen, Kari, Colorlines Magazine


WHEN ANGELA VASQUEZ AND OTHER STUDENTS in the deaf education program at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago heard that four of the 10 teachers in their program were being laid off because of budget cuts, they were angry, frustrated and sad.

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"We wanted to follow them, like little penguins," said Vasquez, now a senior at Whitney Young, communicating in sign language through an interpreter at Access Living, a disability rights and services group in Chicago.

The layoffs announced last spring came on the heels of a series of program cuts that students feel have compromised the quality of deaf education at the high school. The deaf program cuts were part of a massive $26 million cut in special education programs in the Chicago public schools that took effect this fall.

Vasquez said that since the teacher cuts took effect, things have changed. Since there are only six teachers certified for deaf education instead of 10, it is harder do exist," said Redding, noting that about 44 percent of deaf students are people of color, while about 94 percent of the teaching force in deaf education is white. "We are discriminated against as Black people and as deaf people, thus we are discriminated against doubly as Black deaf people."

Robert Davila, the deaf son of Latino migrant workers, who became U.S. Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, said that from elementary school through his doctoral studies, "I was never taught by a minority teacher, nor did I ever see one in any program I attended."

The 2004-2005 annual survey by Gallaudet Research Institute found that of nearly 37,000 deaf students nationwide, 50 percent are white, 15 percent are Black, 25 percent are Latino, 4 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander and 0.4 percent Native American or Alaskan native. Of those, 47 percent attend mainstream "regular education" schools, 30 percent are in special classrooms within mainstream schools, and 28 percent are in schools for the deaf.

At Whitney Young and most other mainstream schools, deaf students attend a combination of all-deaf classes with a deaf education-certified teacher and mainstream classes aided by an interpreter. Since learning in a mainstream, hearing class and shuttling between the two types of classrooms can be confusing and chaotic, students say strong mentors and caring teachers are especially important.

But with so few deaf education teachers of color, the white cultural bias that pervades the nation's education system is that much more acute.

A debate about race that had been simmering within the deaf education community became very public last spring when Gallaudet University, a prestigious deaf school in Washington D. …

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Loud and Clear: Students of Color Fight to Save Chicago's Deaf Education Program
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