Interim Board President Steven Hlibok and Interim Superintendent Kevin Strachan of the Maryland School for the Deaf [MSD] were put in the hot seat during a public hearing on Thursday with testimonies from several MSD parents and alumni. (Video available here.)
While Strachan conceded that the Governor selects all 19 members for the Board of Trustees, he made it clear that the state does not have the authority to oversee the Superintendent. In an attempt to defend MSD’s reputation, Strachan added that the allegations against MSD is merely “noise” because the allegations have “no time frame, no names, no sense of who did what” and insisted that MSD “can’t investigate something that we don’t understand the details of,” even as we are in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) was quick to respond with a push-back to Strachan. “I think that’s a little bit dismissive,” Pinsky said. “Even if a majority [of allegations] are shown not to be true, there’s usually a grain of truth in a lot of things…I think you need to be careful of calling those things noise. I think that sort of reduces it and if we want to send a message of openness and transparency and inclusion, and I think we have to give a little more respect than that.”
The administration argued that MSD did request for former BIPOC students and employees to contact them directly and share their stories, and yet nobody came forth. The discrepancy between MSD’s claim and the fairly large number of BIPOC interviewees for Deaf Vee Journal’s investigative report indicates the level of distrust that BIPOC Deaf and hard of hearing community members have for MSD as a whole and that there is more to this ordeal than meets the eye.
Sarah Rosen, a parent of former MSD students, raised the following question in her testimony: “Is MSD a private school or is it a state school? And if it is a state school, why is it separate from MSDE [Maryland State Department of Education]?”
In consideration of the testimonials at the meeting and the lack of proper oversight, Dr. Barbara Dezmon, the former Education Chair for Maryland State’s NAACP, called the claim of MSDE being unable to oversee the school “questionable.” Dr. Dezmon reiterated that MSDE is “responsible for all the state’s public schools, which includes MSD.” Rosen also cited a state law that says “the Department, each county board, and the MSD shall work together to meet the educational needs of deaf children.”
“I have doubts of the cures or the remedies that have been suggested by the new superintendent…it seems that historically, the Maryland School of the Deaf has been operating on their own with little to no accountability to outside agencies, only to themselves,” Dr. Dezmon added in response to Strachan’s numerous suggestions.
At the conclusion of this meeting, it was determined that the state of Maryland will investigate the Maryland School for the Deaf. “The concerns that have been brought forward are very serious,” Senator Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) said. “I’m just not getting a sense that this is being taken to the level of seriousness by the leadership of the school that really needs to reflect the concerns that have been brought forward. This really needs a lot better oversight.”
In response to the public meeting aired on Thursday, BlPOC community members–primarily Black Deaf persons–shared with Deaf Vee Journal they were upset they were not notified or invited to Thursday’s public meeting beforehand. A second meeting is planned, and the date and time is yet to be determined. If you are a Black Deaf alumni or former employee who would like to testify at this second meeting, please feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook. We will connect you with the meeting organizers directly.