Michigan School for the Deaf community members express concerns at town hall

[Transcript] Last night there were about 200 people from the Deaf community in Michigan who attended a town hall hosted by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Office of Special Education (OSE) to express their concerns and frustrations with the Michigan School for the Deaf’s process of hiring a principal and on the school’s signing policy.

There was a protest on Thursday led by students with parents and activists attending. Their main complaint was that the campus manager, Charles Thomas, was not proficient in sign language and was not transparent in his communication with students or parents. The Daily Moth did a report on the protests.

Yesterday morning, before the evening town hall, the OSE announced that they have appointed Angela Horne, a special education teacher, to be an interim, WOC (Working Out of Class) principal.

MSD alumni Jenny Berrigan posted screenshots of the announcement from the OSE, who pointed out that Horne has an Associate’s Degree in Sign Language Interpreting.

Several Deaf community members expressed frustration on social media that Horne is not as qualified or as proficient in ASL as Rex Vernon, who student leaders said was the best choice and is a CODA.

Deaf Michigan resident Kriston Pumphrey attended the town hall and provided some images and video to “The Daily Moth.”


[Video of a full-house audience with several people talking onstage]

[Slideshow with the words, “Preparation: Community Input. A community meeting will be held to seek input on the following questions: 1. What personal characteristics, professional background and experiences would you hope the new principal will possess? 2. From your perspective, what would attract a quality educator to seek the principal position at the MSD?]

[Female MSD community member speaking with interpreter translating: You’ve failed to give my son, our children with a proper education under the IDEA. Parents here are demanding, not requesting, we are now demanding ASLPI Level 5 or above.]

[Female MSD community member #2 signing: October 2018, it was announced that the campus manager was hired. Were parents informed? Were you informed? Audience: No!]

The Daily Moth did an interview with two parents to ask them about last night’s town hall and what their main concerns were.


Hello, can you two introduce your names and what role you’ve been playing in this?


My name is Heather Golob. *Signs name*

I’m a parent of 3 deaf children, with the fourth on the way this fall.


I’m Sarah Houston and I’m a parent of a 10-year-old boy enrolled at Michigan School for the Deaf (MSD).


Can you two explain what are the main concerns that the parents in the deaf community shared at last night’s town hall?


One of the main concerns is their language policy. For our school, their expectation is that all of their staff and teachers to sign at ASL Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) level 4 to 5 in order to better meet our children’s sign language communication needs so they’re not losing that critical information. And none of them are taking these ASLPIs.


Angela Horne (AH) is not a proficient ASL signer. She’s only been working at MSD for 3 years.


That’s it.


That’s not a lot of time compared with other principal candidate options, like Rex Vernon who has 10 years of valuable experience plus he’s got that Children of Deaf Adults (CODA) connection. I don’t understand why that was not the pick?

I want real concrete change within the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) system itself. I’ve asked and said they need deaf representatives in there!

There’s no “if, ands, ors and buts”.


We need to put a person who truly knows what’s the best for our deaf children because they will always be involved, it’s rooted in their culture, and I’m not necessarily only talking about deaf people. There are some who would prefer a deaf person in that role, yes, my priority is sign language. It’s so important that they are able to have that effective language reciprocity with my child for the deaf community. They want to see real progress with the educational delivery and that will be done with sign language.


Michigan Department of Education (MDE) hosted the town hall and just yesterday morning, they announced that they had picked Angela Horne, just before the town hall. Do either of you feel like they should’ve waited until after the town hall? How did you feel about that timeline set for you where you had the protest, picking the principal and now the town hall?


My thought was…

What happened when the parents asked Charles Thomas (CT) last April or May, around there, asking if he would have a meeting with all of us parents. He never answered our messages. So why are you waiting and avoiding these students until June. When it took 4 students to go outside and protest for you to finally say something?! Now you immediately set up the town hall, and it wasn’t until right before the meeting, they made the announcement in the same day, in the morning. How did that make me feel? What the hell?!

And I’m not surprised that they picked Angela Horne. We knew this would happen.


For me, it shows they simply don’t care. They do not care about what we and the deaf community want. They run on their own system. They pick people who will side with them in order to try to change the philosophy, the bilingual philosophy at Michigan School for the Deaf (MSD). It’s my belief that they’re trying to lessen the emphasis on ASL or they’re just not going to put any focus on sign language in terms of learning and education.


Now, what’s the next important, well, it’s summer now and they’ve already hired Angela Horne as the interim principal. Can you explain what your plans are moving forward?


After what just happened yesterday, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about what our next move would be. I expect them to finally listen and that’s the only one damn thing I want and it’s for them to listen to us! That’s all! And they need to ask us about what we need to meet our kid’s education needs. That’s the only damn thing that we need! That’s all.


I want to take the time to make sure they heard us by taking action. How? First, Angel needs to resign and if she does not then we’re going to have to persist and keep pushing until the first demand has been met. We do have a qualified, competent and culturally appropriate person who can take on that role. Just do it. Doing this would show us that you do hear us. You understand us. If this doesn’t happen then we’ll just have to continue the fight.

Alex: Thank you for your time.

Scott Koenigsknecht, as known as K13, who is the Deputy Superintendent of the MDE, was at the town hall and seated on a table onstage.

The Michigan Deaf Association shared a video of Mary Klein telling him that he has 13 cousins who are MSD alumni. The crowd broke out in cheers and applause.

[Video clip] Mary: Did you know that you have 13 cousins that are MSD alumni? Did you know that?

(Crowd cheering)

Mary: I have a family tree here for you to look at.

Koenigsknecht told NBC 25 News that he understood the community’s concerns, saying “there were a few times when the presenters signed and didn’t speak, and me not knowing sign, I was deprived of the language. So I can certainly see and understand where they are coming from.”

Stevie Gemmill Naeyaert, a MSD alumni, recently publicly called for the resignation of the MSD campus manager Thomas and the interim principal Horne.

So, we can see that it’s a very tense situation between MDE administrators, the Michigan School for the Deaf administrators, and members of the MSD community.


MDA Video of Mary Klein: http://bit.ly/2KyE5zV

Stevie’s Resignation Demand: https://www.facebook.com/stevienaeyaert/videos/10156293433793144/



That is all for today. See you tomorrow and stay with the light!


Supported by:

Convo [https://convo.click/2mVhM8h]

Gallaudet University: [gallaudet.edu]