Interview with SDSD alumni; analysis by Linsay Darnall Jr. on NSD closure
The last update we made on the South Dakota School for the Deaf situation is that State Governor Kristi Noem finalized the sale of the SDSD and approved the program to move to TCF Bank’s former building. We mentioned that there was some pushback from the South Dakota Association of the Deaf (SDAD) related with the location, but Governor Noem went ahead with the approval.
We saw on SDAD’s Facebook page that they had a meeting last Saturday on what the next step will be related with this situation. We reached out to a community member who attended the meeting, Mark Johnson, who is a SDSD alumni of 1974. His parents graduated from SDSD too. We asked what his role in the community, he said that he is a concerned citizen on behalf of the deaf children in South Dakota.
We asked him to summarize the SDAD meeting last Saturday and share what the next step is.
MARK JOHNSON: So, a few people had asked some good questions. I feel these were good because it gave people some of the facts on what’s happening regarding the school. 2 or 3 people still thought the school was closing. No, the school is definitely not closing. They will still provide services. The problem is location. The current location is an absolutely awful place that the board of regents had chosen for our deaf children. That’s what it is.
Renca: The Outreach services is the only program that is still running under SDSD. The program has 11 staff members serving 589 deaf and hard of hearing children around South Dakota. Due to the Outreach Services hosting many various events and activities for parents and their deaf/hard of hearing children to attend, having the right location is very important. Johnson mentioned that the current choice of location is not safe.
MARK JOHNSON: The TCF, which is where the school will be placed, is not a safe place. Why is that? Right next to TCF, about half a block, has this strip, go-go dance club. Whatever you call it. Then also nearby, there’s a store called Menard’s. It’s a lumber store. Across the street is a Walmart. That area is going to be very busy with a lot of traffic. That’s where they want us to relocate the campus to. There is no grass. There’s no place to set up their own parking lots. Next to the new building is some kind of a warehouse where there’s a lot of trucks and traffic. So, we feel that this location is not safe for SDSD. The reason really comes down to the location for our deaf children.
Renca: Johnson mentioned that Governor Noem did sign the paperwork so it is a done deal, but there is still a way to reconsider the location for the SDSD Outreach Services because the Sioux Falls Ministry Center has not paid $6.9 million yet. Johnson said that they made a proposal of two different locations to the Government Operations and Audit Committee (GOAC). Johnson and 5 other people went to testify to GOAC in the capital, Pierre last Tuesday.
[Text box with an image of the state capital building in Pierre]
“Johnson said several people gave testimonies, including the school superintendent, an attorney for the Board of Regents, two mothers of deaf children, and a deaf person via Skype. The GOCA will document multiple perspectives and share it to the Board of Regents to make a final decision. It could take 10 to 90 days.”
Renca: We asked Johnson how he feels about this whole situation.
MARK JOHNSON: I am still furious. Many in the deaf community feel that we should picket outside and prevent the TCF from installing the new campus. Right now, we’re following the SDSD’s lead and their directives. But yes, there are many in the deaf community who are upset and angry. I’m furious because I’m tired of seeing deaf children being constantly cast aside. They’re always secondary to every concern. That’s my personal opinion! Growing up as a deaf child with deaf parents, I’ve seen how my parents were treated and same for past generations. So, this is ongoing issue with deaf children. They’re being pushed down, they’re not important or they are not needed. They’re being spread out and dumped.
Renca: Thank you, Johnson, for sharing.
We also reached out to SDAD for their comments and they said they are not able to comment at this time.
Nebraska School for the Deaf closed in 1998. We asked Linsay Darnall, Jr., NSD alumni and activist, to share his experience with the closure of NSD. We asked him how it has affected the Deaf community in Nebraska.
LINSAY DARNALL, JR: Nebraska School for the Deaf (NSD) closed on June 5th, 1998. 21 years ago. To answer your question on if the school’s closing has had an impact on the deaf community. Well, during the 1990s, at that time we were fighting to keep the school open. We did ask ourselves back then that if the school were to close then would the local deaf community dissolve? It’s been 21 years now, and based on what I’ve seen, that’s not what’s happening. Why is that? It might be different factors that helped us in maintaining our deaf community. First of all, we have our deaf club in Omaha owned by deaf people. We have that one place where deaf people come together. Also, we have the Junior NAD chapter with mainstreamed deaf children and young adults. That creates a smooth succession plan. They know where to find resources for the deaf community. They know where to go. Even though they are small in numbers in a large area in Nebraska.
I don’t know what the long-term impacts will be. Between these 21 years, everybody who was mainstreamed during that time are now in their 30s or early 40s. I don’t know how they’ve been impacted by this. Perhaps we need to do a case study on that and investigate what were the actual impacts, but we do know for sure that each one of these children were impacted in terms of not having the option of going to a Deaf school.
Renca: We asked what advice would he give to keep in mind when watching out for our Deaf schools here in the USA.
LINSAY DARNALL, JR: My advice is to always, always be vigilant. Always keep your eyes open. There’s always signs, for example, even if it’s for one building on campus that they want to either sell, donate or rent without asking for the community’s input. Two, it could be policy that’s been changed or three, there’s been changes in funding. Any one of those is a clear sign that we must pay attention to.
We need to bark at them, introduce ourselves and get their attention. Let them know who you are! Whether it’s city level or district or state, there’s a Board of Education and you should meet them all! It could be the city council, state legislators and people who you’ve voted for, be vigilant and meet them. Introduce yourself as their voters and share your demands. This helps them know who you are. This is so important. We need to work together.
There’s another tip, a huge piece of advice, the infighting within the deaf community needs to stop. The time and energy that you’re spending on each other could have been redirected into working together and making a positive impact. I know this because it did happen here in Nebraska. There were different opinions on what NSD should look like in the future. Because of this, there was a lot of infighting while those higher up had their own cohesive plan.
The decision to close the school was partly theirs, but it was mostly because of the deaf community. So we need to avoid making these same mistakes. Take my advice.
Renca: Thank you, Linsay, for sharing. We will continue to update you when we find out more information.