After the Daily Memphian article, the Deaf community saw many people worried about the safety of the children who attend the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf [MOSD]. Multiple readers have declared “this is abuse” when sharing the Daily Memphian article discussing the school’s reopening plan. Deaf Vee Journal initially published an article, “Use of Masks at Memphis Oral School for the Deaf,” to provide information missing from the Daily Memphian’s article including concerns of community members, along with responses from the school and a local organization. The school’s response included two staff participatory groups with the shared purpose of being continually supportive of parental choice.
Deaf Vee Journal was unable to find any additional information at the time of publication regarding “The West Tennessee Taskforce” or “The Common Ground Initiative,” so we reached out to Lauren Hays, Executive Director of MOSD, for additional information. It was then discovered that the Common Ground Initiative was a project that held a panel discussion at the EHDI conference back in 2016. There were four OPTION school representatives on the panel, along with four Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf [CEASD] representatives. While both organizations have very different language approaches, they have come together in support of the “child first” initiative. OPTION schools provide instruction through Listening and Spoken Languages [LSL], while CEASD provides instructions in American Sign Language (ASL)/English both.
Several parents came forward and shared their family’s experience with MOSD, quoted below:
“I have experienced first-hand the same hearing loss journey as the parents we serve. My son is deaf. We live in a day and age where advancements in technology have opened a world of possibilities to hear sound and identification happens at birth. Our family has been committed to oral deaf education in these first years of life. He is 5 now and has typical spoken language skills as his hearing twin brother. He loves to sing, play music, and laugh with his brother. I am blessed by this program personally.” (Lauren Hays)
“My child attended this school and it is an absolute blessing. I am not sure where you live but would absolutely encourage you to tour this school before you pass judgment. My daughter cochlear implants. She is in 2nd grade and makes straight ‘A’s. She also reads well above her age range. She takes guitar lessons and loves music. If a parent decided that this is not the route for their child or CIs were not what they wanted for their child, do you know what I would say to them? Absolutely nothing. Their kid, and their choice. The teachers at MOSD are some of the most caring teachers in this world. They really care for these kids. P.S., if oral education does not work for a child, I have absolutely seen this school recommend ASL instead. Their priority is to help these kids communicate.” (Stacy Greene)
Christy Keane, another parent, spoke with Deaf Vee Journal to discuss her feelings about how the Deaf community has created a space of hostility towards hearing parents with deaf children. “90 percent of Deaf children are born to hearing parents!” she said. She also shared her child’s experience as nothing but positive, and that her daughter also utilizes ASL at home and while at MOSD, the school never once penalized her for signing. Keane shared that she has a video of her daughter, Charly signing “airplane” and the person working with her acknowledged what she was signing and responded enthusiastically. Keane also emphasized repeatedly that she never felt like the school didn’t respect her family’s wishes to incorporate ASL in their child’s life, and that the school has collaborated to provide events with other programs that endorse and promote American Sign Language. These events are marketed to parents with the intent to provide all options possible for their families.
Ginger Lessel Ragan, yet another parent, shared her thoughts as well:
“I am so very thankful for schools like MOSD. Without them, our daughter would not have had all the opportunities that lay before her now as an adult. I am aware oral deaf education doesn’t work for everyone and there are lots of reasons why. But it did for our family and I am thankful we had oral schools, teachers, audiologists, AVT’s, speech pathologists, etc., around us to love on us and help my daughter!
I can also tell you that the mission of the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf is to empower deaf and hard of hearing children to listen and speak. It’s not to immerse them in Deaf culture.
If we had chosen ASL or any other type of queued speech, etc. we would have chosen a school for the Deaf.
I am thankful for all the choices that are out there for all families. I dare not ever assume that my way is the best or only way and I am hopeful that others will come to that same realization and stop pushing lies and fear. Isn’t there enough of that out there???”
Brittany Pellegra, a graduate from MOSD, also spoke with Deaf Vee Journal about their experience, including information about her family.
Pellegra’s grandmother is Deaf and does not speak, so because of that experience, her parents wanted her to have all possible opportunities. As a child, she received a cochlear implant and went to MOSD. She explained that her and her brother’s journeys and choices of communication were very different, but neither was traumatized by their MOSD experience. She chooses to speak while her brother prefers to sign. Their parents allowed both children to choose their preferred method of communication.
Attending MOSD, she said, was an experience that afforded her all the opportunities she has today. “This world is crazy enough and we need to be a community to help one another. Closing a school isn’t an option.” (Pellegra)
Lauren Hays, MOSD’s Executive Director, wanted to respond to the controversial statements that they are using face shields and “do not allow ASL.” She emphasized that just because MOSD says on their website that they “do not sign,” it does not automatically translate into punishment of children who choose to use ASL along with their speech development training at school.
The following is MOSD’s official statement, updated:
“As a part of OPTION, MOSD is committed to ensuring children with hearing loss and their families have access to listening and spoken language education choices. MOSD provides an oral rich environment for our students to learn to listen and develop spoken language. Every child at MOSD has varying degrees of hearing loss, from profound deafness to mild hearing loss. All of our children wear hearing devices, such as cochlear implants, hearing aids, and BAHAs (bone-anchored hearing aids). Auditory training is critical for children to gain the most benefit from their hearing devices. At MOSD, students receive a full day’s worth of small group classroom instruction, as well as daily speech therapy and aural habilitation to ensure success with their devices.
MOSD joins every other school in navigating the uncharted territory of a global pandemic with the need for protective equipment in the classroom. It is a constant learning process. Our teachers will exclusively be using protective face shields during instruction, as well as our speech language pathologists and audiologists as face shields are best for speech perception and allow children to see the faces of their teachers.
It is disappointing to witness social media attacks on our program and mission that originated from misconstrued pictures and untrue statements by individuals unfamiliar with our program. Though MOSD focuses on oral deaf education to help children develop listening skills with their devices, families have the right to choose any additional languages that will support their child’s development. Families are provided education on available resources in our community and are encouraged to choose a communication mode that will be most supported and proficient within the family.
MOSD is respectful of the Deaf community and Deaf culture and has demonstrated collaboration with statewide parent outreach coordinators and early interventionists across the country. MOSD understands the deep commitment of individuals in the Deaf community and recognizes the generational hurt caused by outdated oral deaf education practices from other institutions.
MOSD celebrates the generations and testimonies of children who have been given the opportunity to learn to listen and talk. It is our hope that the Deaf community will accept children and families who are accessing sound to develop spoken language.”