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Saturday, May 18, 2024


June 6, 2001 – A schoolteacher, several parents and four soon-to-be ninth-grade students are upset. The youngsters do not have a classroom for next fall, and right now hopes of finding one appear slim.
Sarah Hancock, a teacher for the group of hearing-impaired students at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, has been trying since March to locate a classroom for the four students, who will enter high school in the fall.
"In a roundabout way, I've basically been told to fend for myself," Hancock said in frustration after speaking with Education Department officials.
The four students were profiled in a May 31 Source story, "Deaf teens off to D.C. for sports experience", relating their excitement about plans to spend the last two weeks of June at a camp for the hearing impaired.
"The teachers are pushing for it, the parents are pushing for it," Hancock said of the need for a classroom in the fall. But, she added, "There is no doubt in my mind that the superintendent and the special education director have washed their hands of it."
According to Hancock, the mother of student Rennick Etienne took the matter to the St. Thomas-St. John district superintendent's office.
On Monday, Hancock said, she raised the issue with Supt. Rosalia Payne, who told her she was busy with "very important matters" and declined to discuss it further. Hancock also said that when she spoke with Belinda West-O'Neal, director of special education, West-O'Neal told her, "I do not deal with matters of finding a classroom; I deal with legal matters."
Contacted at her office Tuesday, West-O'Neal said of the situation, "The superintendent makes those decisions." She added that a decision was being "worked on."
The graduating BCB students — Rennick, Kisias George, Jaliya Anderson and Willie Payne — are slated to go to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. But Hancock said that when she talked with Kean Principal Sinclair Wilkinson on May 16, he told her he hadn't been informed that the students would be coming to the school — and that he didn't have an empty classroom. Hancock said Wilkinson told her he would "welcome the students with open arms," but he has no room for them.
Wilkinson said on Wednesday, "I just got notice two days ago that the group was coming. We have to find some way to get a room for them, though I don't know where. We have been asking for help." He added, "This school was built for 500 students, and now we have 900."
Clearly distraught by the situation, Wilkinson continued, "In all honesty, I don't know where I'm going to put them. I welcome them with open arms even without a room — they must be educated. But I don't know how I'm going to do it."
Asked if the Education Department's Special Education Division couldn't help, Wilkinson didn't reply directly. He said, "It's a dilemma, the room and legal affairs. The federal law says we have to find a room. I have to begin to prepare for these students."
Wilkinson's concluding comment was, "We are yearning for space. The foreign language department is yearning for space, the English department is yearning for space, the mathematics department is yearning for space and, yes, the special education department is yearning for space."
Hancock, a 17-year veteran of the territory's public education system, has been teaching the four students since first grade at Peace Corps School, and she will continue to teach them through high school. In the afternoons, she said, the students attend regular classes where she and her assistant, Youville George, are with them to interpret the teachers' presentations and classroom discussions in sign language. But they require a self-contained class in the morning to clarify English and mathematics, she said.
Laurel Payne, Willie's mother, said, "We don't know what's going to be happening to these kids. It's real sad when the kids are so willing to learn, and the system isn't doing anything. The Education Department needs to do something with the millions of dollars they get."
The four youngsters, she continued, "can do their learning with the mainstream, but they have to have a special classroom … They cannot be integrated in a regular classroom; they would be lost."
Repeated telephone calls to the offices of Supt. Payne and Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds were not returned.

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