Taft Elementary School DHH program accused of discriminatory practices
Taft Elementary School, located in Santa Ana, California, has a program for Deaf and hard of hearing children (DHH) with about 120 students, along with various programs for hearing students -- some with additional disabilities. There are a total of 560 deaf and hearing students.
Several months ago Taft was looking for a new principal and posted a job description, but multiple people from the Taft community viewed the job posting made by the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) as discriminatory because there was a requirement for the principal to be able to speak and hear.
(Picture of the job description)
The Daily Moth reached out to one of the people who were part of the group that objected, Brendan Bonette, alumni of 1989, to explain what happened.
On June 11th, at the Board meeting, the parents asked us to attend and do a presentation. There were several of us present and they commented on how they wanted a deaf principal that could communicate with the students. They wanted someone with a background and understanding of deaf education among a number of relevant concerns. Then we requested that the board meet in private on June 27th. After one hour, it went pretty well. We shared some tips and inputs to emphasize the importance of choosing a candidate with a background in deaf education, also if possible, a deaf person because it is possible. They asked us for our feedback regarding possibly making improvements in their school’s system and operations. We offered a good amount of insight on that, but they kept using the word ‘progress’ which can be a great thing. But I’m not sure what their definition of ‘progress’ is plus they did mention having fiscal issues. They feel that employing 2 principals were not possible, that we can only employ one.
Bonette explained that the group had a meeting with the SAUSD board to explain the importance of having the right principal because of the DHH program. He said the meeting went well and that there was a deaf individual who many viewed as qualified who applied, but after a while, the original principal position description was removed and reposted.
An anonymous Taft alumni explained that when the job was first posted, it was titled for DHH only, but later they changed it to one principal for all programs. This alumni said it was not right to do that and that it looked “shady.”
When the job was reposted, this group started a petition that had 4 demands and and had over 1,200 people sign. The petition was shown to the SAUSD board on July 9th.
(Image of the petition)
The petition that said there was a “qualified” deaf individual fluent in ASL with a California administrative credential who applied for the position but was not hired.
In the end, SAUSD chose Dr. Scott Barlow, a hearing man who is not known by multiple members of the Deaf community, as Taft’s new principal. It is not clear what level of fluency he has in ASL.
One Deaf Taft alumni explained that before 2000, there were two principals for the school. One would focus on the DHH program and the other one would focus on the rest of the programs at the school. After 2000, due to financial limitations, the two positions were merged into one.
Steven Longacre, a deaf person, was a principal for nearly 30 years at Taft before retiring in 2017. For many of those years, he was the principal for the entire school, overseeing the DHH and other programs.
Some Taft community members told “The Daily Moth” that Longacre has the ability to speak for himself and can hear pretty well -- which made it easier for him to be the principal of all programs at the school.
Longacre was asked to serve as an interim principal until the final paperwork is done with Barlow.
We have reached out to Longacre to provide comments on this situation and he referred us to Theresa Cisneros, the Communications Coordinator at SAUSD.
Cisneros said that Taft was looking for a principal to run the entire school.
We asked her about the job description stating that the person will need to speak and hear, this is her response, we will show it in text:
“It is true that a section of all job descriptions titled ‘Working Conditions: Physical Abilities’ states: ‘Hearing and speaking accurately to exchange information and make presentations…’
However, this language does not preclude people with disabilities from holding this position. The job descriptions also state that ‘reasonable accommodations may be made to enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.’”
We asked Cisneros why the job was reposted and why the board felt that Barlow was fit for the position.
She responded that she cannot share this information with us.
Prior to our communication with Cisneros, we had reached out to an unofficial representative from the school district. The person said the position was reposted because the SAUSD board did not find what they were looking for after the first search. The representative said they prefer someone who is fluent in ASL, but they are looking for someone who can administer all types of programs at the school. The representative said the interview panel had some deaf individuals on it.
We asked Bonette and two other Taft alumni to share their thoughts about why they feel this issue is important to them.
(Melissa Elmíra Yingst, alumni 1989)
For me, I still hold Taft dear to my heart because they still, even though the program is imperfect in certain aspects, they still serve as a program in a community that needs it in Orange county especially for the Latinx students or their families who won’t send their kids to a School for the Deaf. They refuse to do this. Really, if this program didn’t exist then where else would these children go? Taft is the only resource that we had so I do feel that Taft holds an important role, I cherish it and it’s something worthy of preserving. We shouldn’t just close down the program cutting off students scattered in the area. They are the ones who will suffer in the long term.
I believe that Taft can still thrive, to be honest. They can thrive. It just comes down to who makes these decisions because they can make things better for the kids. Really, based on my previous experience with Melissa, which is in some ways similar, the whole experience was really something that was different for me. Now that I’m seeing students being segregated into oral groups and groups that use sign language. That’s concerning to me and we need them to co-exist. It doesn’t matter if you shouldn’t speak at all. You’re all Deaf and we need to stick together! It’s just better for them all to work together and solidify as a community for the purpose of our Deaf children achieving success.
(Stacy Eilbert, alumni 1982)
For me, that’s where it touches on an emotional subject because I know Taft isn’t the only school that’s going through this experience. We have more and more Deaf people who have developed strong identities and they have strong allies who know what these Deaf children need. I don’t understand why they can’t just listen to us? It really comes down to us to put a stop to all this “divide and conquer” mentality. We need to really focus on listening to Deaf education professionals. This is, indeed, the time to really start taking a look at the Deaf education models because, for example, the Marlton school has its own problems. They are a little different, but they have their own problems. That’s another school I know of and several others. We shouldn’t just close them down. Schools for the Deaf have its own problems as well. Something needs to change.
So, this is some of what has been happening at Taft. The petition also pointed out that not all of the DHH teachers, interpreters, and staff members are fluent in ASL and that the school psychologist doesn’t sign.
The issues that have come up seems to be similar to what is going on in other school programs across the country with community members objecting against administrative leaders who do not make it a priority to have deaf leaders who are fluent in ASL leading programs with deaf children.