Local News

Report finds systemic problems at N.C. school for deaf

Posted September 27, 2010 3:18 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2010 7:08 p.m. EDT

— Born deaf, Jan Withers fully understands the challenges facing someone who doesn't communicate with their vocal chords.

"Challenges tend to be people who are not deaf who don't necessarily understand how a deaf person can function," she said.

As director of the North Carolina Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Withers says she was stunned by a two-year report released in July that detailed allegations of abuse and neglect at the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton.

"I was horrified and appalled," she says.

Issued by Disability Rights North Carolina, the report listed several cases of excessive abuse, including one in which a student's arms and hands were restrained while the student was held face-down.

Withers says that's comparable to putting tape on the mouth of a child who can hear and putting a bag over his or her head because hearing-impaired students use their hands to communicate.

Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler said the school's director, Janet McDaniel, was dismissed and that other changes are likely as a result of the findings of an investigation into the policies, procedures and practices of the school.

The eight-page report released Monday found systemic problems and identified a hostile work environment, inconsistent policies and procedures and a lack of training. It described an environment of intimidation, retaliation and favoritism.

"It was very revealing, I think, surprising (that) the issues had gone on as long as they had," Cansler said. "I do feel good about the report."

The state report offered a series of six recommendations to restore the school's effectiveness and performance. They include adequately addressing the needs and requirements of the student population, more familial involvement, more staff training and better coordination with other school resources.

Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, said she would have liked to have seen more specifics about how the state plans to change the school's culture.

She said she is concerned that current budget cuts will prevent any true change in the school

Meanwhile, Withers, who was not involved in the report or the initial investigation that led to it, says she is supportive and satisfied with the department's new direction.