Life In Another World

November 29, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Brooks Igo

Susannah Crumley says she has been living in a world most people don’t know about. It’s a world that has been scrambling to survive the recent state budget cuts to education.

Crumley, who works for the Plano Independent School District (PISD), has been teaching special education for the past 14 years. She has spent the past seven years providing one-on-one support and serving as the eyes and ears for a student who is deaf-blind.

The budget passed by PISD in June included $23 million in cuts this year and an additional $10 million reduction in 2012. There was about a five percent overall staff reduction, which has been felt across the board, including in special education.

The state allocates $33 million annually to Regional Day School Programs for the Deaf with an additional $5 million coming from federal funds, according to the director of deaf services for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Brent Pitt. These schools provide special programs for students who are deaf through school districts like Plano’s. The $33 million allocated by the state has been the same amount since 1995, which has posed a problem as the demand for specialized services for the deaf continues to increase.

This leaves special education professionals like Crumley worried about their future and the future of students receiving services from their local Regional Day School Program. When the

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures services to children with disabilities across the nation, passed in 2004, the demand for those services increased.

Crumley says special education teachers are having to do the same job with fewer paraprofessionals, leaving educators feeling overwhelmed and worried about who’s going to be there to help.

“I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in a year,” she said.

For students who are deaf and need specially trained teachers, this poses a real concern.

According to Angela Johnson, the executive director of the Deaf Action Center in Dallas, only 10 percent of mothers and 5 percent of fathers of children who are deaf know sign language.

“Parents have limited resources,” she said. “How can we expect them to be on the same levels as students who aren’t deaf or hard of hearing without specialized teachers?”

Johnson is hopeful to provide more of those resources next year. The United Way cut this year’s funding to the Deaf Action Center from $225,000 to $75,000. The Deaf Action Center, which has offices across the state, has its headquarters in Dallas and serves around 350 students who are deaf or hard of hearing from schools in Dallas, Mesquite, and Plano. While the local Regional Day School Programs are responsible for providing the students with the services they need, the Deaf Action Center offers additional educational support services.

Parents like Jill LaMorge, whose son Christopher is deaf-blind and works with Crumley, rely on the state to continue to provide the specialized services their children receive.

Crumley, who has worked with Christopher since he was in sixth grade, says she fills in the gaps a sighted, hearing person would have. With the help of an AV radio and headphones, she is able to pull out background noise to help him hear better. She also customizes his reading material by enlarging the font to help him see.

In addition to Crumley’s help, Christopher also receives services from a deaf itinerant teacher through Plano’s Regional Day School Program for the Deaf. LaMorge says she hasn’t noticed a change in the services her son has received and said that Plano’s Regional Day School Program for the Deaf has been very consistent throughout the years.

She says the relationships she and Christopher have developed with the staff at Plano’s Regional Day School Program for the Deaf have been fabulous.

“It’s almost like a small family,” she said.

The services her son is able to receive are so valuable to LaMorge and her husband that they have chosen to remain in Plano despite several opportunities to move because of her husband’s job.

That’s why Crumley, who speaks with an easy British accent, is worried about the future of funding for special education. She knows the importance of what she and her colleagues do and the services they provide.

“All teachers do things people aren’t aware of,” she said. “Special education teachers do things other teachers aren’t aware of.”