The Student Body Is Deaf and Diverse. The School’s Leadership Is Neither.

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More than 30 years aft a groundbreaking protestation astatine Gallaudet University successful Washington, questions astir enactment astatine a schoolhouse for the deaf successful Atlanta person been further compounded by race.

Students astatine  the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf protested extracurricular  of their schoolhouse  past  month, soon  aft  the schoolhouse  hired a achromatic  proceeding  superintendent.
Credit...Trinity Arreola

Oct. 26, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Student protests implicit the hiring of a achromatic proceeding superintendent person roiled a schoolhouse for the deaf that serves mostly Black and Hispanic students successful the Atlanta country and person focused attraction connected whether schoolhouse leaders should amended bespeak the identities of their students.

The Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, tally by the Georgia Department of Education, is 1 of 2 nationalist schools for the deaf successful Georgia and serves astir 180 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, astir 80 percent of whom are Black and Hispanic.

Students protested the hiring, accusing the schoolhouse and the Education Department of racism and disability-based favoritism against the deaf assemblage known arsenic audism. They noted that the school’s apical enactment included nary radical of colour oregon deaf people.

Two weeks later, the superintendent, Lisa Buckner, who has 22 years of acquisition arsenic a teacher and head of deaf students and had astir precocious worked astatine the Education Department, resigned. The schoolhouse has appointed an interim superintendent, who is besides a achromatic proceeding woman, and is present searching for a imperishable replacement.

The protests echoed a 1988 pupil uprising astatine Gallaudet University, the federally chartered backstage schoolhouse for the deaf and hard of proceeding successful Washington. In that protest, which was viewed arsenic a landmark infinitesimal for deaf people, students successfully pushed for the university’s archetypal deaf president and drew attraction to longstanding challenges faced by deaf people.

Activism since then, including a contention that saw 2 officials astatine Gallaudet resign successful 2020 portion saying the schoolhouse discriminated against Black deaf radical successful hiring and promotions, has progressively evoked some contention and disability. Three decades aft the archetypal Gallaudet protest, galore successful the deaf assemblage accidental they are inactive warring immoderate of the aforesaid battles.

The protests successful Atlanta followed the hiring of Ms. Buckner successful September. She replaced the erstwhile superintendent, John Serrano, who resigned successful May aft 4 years moving arsenic the school’s archetypal deaf Latino leader.

The Atlanta schoolhouse said it interviewed each applicant who met minimum qualifications for the position. Meghan Frick, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Education, said it “stands opposed to audism and different forms of prejudice.” She described Ms. Buckner arsenic “an acquisition leader” who was “proficient” successful American Sign Language, oregon A.S.L.

But existent and erstwhile unit members accidental deaf employees and radical of colour were overlooked for promotions, and some unit and students person complained that Ms. Buckner’s cognition of A.S.L. was poor. In the archetypal occupation posting, motion connection fluency was listed arsenic a preferred, not required, skill.


Credit...Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Many pupil protesters felt similar the caller superintendent could not recognize them and looked down connected them, according to Trinity Arreola, 18, a protestation leader.

“It’s similar we’re going backward,” Ms. Arreola, a elder and the president of the Latino Student Union, said. “It’s similar we’re going backmost to a clip wherever deaf radical were thought of arsenic constricted and incapable.”

The school’s apical enactment consists of achromatic proceeding women filling the roles of superintendent and adjunct principal. In the 2020-21 schoolhouse year, 79 percent of teachers were achromatic and 60 percent of teachers were hearing, according to Education Department data. Ms. Buckner declined to reply questions astir her determination to resign oregon complaints from students and staff.

Since May, astatine slightest 12 different employees person discontinue the school. Many of those who discontinue were deaf, radical of color, oregon both, according to 1 erstwhile agriculture teacher, Emily Friedberg, 50, who is achromatic and deaf.

After 12 years moving astatine the school, she said, she was pushed to discontinue successful June — months earlier she recovered retired who the caller superintendent was — due to the fact that of what she described arsenic a “hostile” situation driven by achromatic proceeding enactment that she said “bullied” deaf unit and made inappropriate remarks astir students of color.

Ms. Frick said the Education Department was not alert of incidents similar these astatine the school. She said officials encouraged anyone with concerns to scope retired to the Education Department leadership.


Credit...Sergio Flores for The New York Times

Though the Gallaudet protestation paved the mode for caller acquisition and employment opportunities for the deaf, schools for the deaf are inactive mostly led by proceeding radical and are seldom led by radical of colour who are deaf.

Of the 73 schoolhouse enactment positions for 71 statewide K-12 schools for the deaf crossed the country, 46 are held by proceeding people, according to Tawny Holmes Hlibok, a prof of deaf studies astatine Gallaudet. Among the 27 deaf schoolhouse leaders — a fig that she said has much than doubled from 7 years agone — 3 are radical of color.

Growing research shows that students execute amended successful schoolhouse if they person relation models who bespeak their background.

“I announcement that erstwhile I speech to deaf children astatine a schoolhouse without a deaf person and inquire them what they privation to beryllium erstwhile they turn up, they often bounds themselves,” Professor Hlibok said, adding, “When I inquire them if they privation to beryllium a teacher oregon lawyer oregon nurse, they accidental they can’t due to the fact that that occupation is for a proceeding person.”

A 2019 study by the National Deaf Center found that 44.8 percent of Black deaf radical and 43.6 percent of deaf Native Americans are successful the labour force, compared with 59 percent of achromatic deaf people.

Along with a deficiency of relation models, galore deaf students, peculiarly deaf students of color, are not adequately prepared for assemblage due to the fact that of a deficiency of aboriginal connection enactment services and a deficiency of certified acquisition interpreters successful nationalist schools, said Laurene E. Simms, interim main bilingual serviceman astatine Gallaudet.

Black deaf students get undergraduate, master’s oregon Ph.D. degrees astatine astir fractional the complaint of Black proceeding students, and fractional the complaint of achromatic deaf students, according to another 2019 study by the National Deaf Center.

The nonaccomplishment of truthful galore radical of colour connected the Atlanta school’s unit has made galore students consciousness little comfy there, according to Katrina Callaway, 19, a senior. In the past, she said, she and her friends person confided successful teachers who they tin subordinate to astir their problems, location lives and friends, but present “students don’t consciousness similar there’s anyone they tin unfastened up to,” she said.


Credit...Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

“When I effort to unfastened up to idiosyncratic who hasn’t had the aforesaid experiences,” she said, “I’m not ever definite if I tin spot them, and I consciousness a batch of self-doubt.” She said that sometimes it seemed that achromatic unit treated students otherwise based connected their tegument color.

More broadly, activists successful caller years person complained astir the “whitewashing of disability,” oregon however overmuch it is mostly seen done a achromatic lens, contempt statistic that amusement Black radical are more apt to person a disability.

For example, media portrayals of those with disabilities and enactment of disablement organizations skew white, according to Vilissa Thompson, a Black disabled activistic who created the hashtag #DisabilitySoWhite connected Twitter to gully attraction to the issue.

Recently, Netflix’s “Deaf U” world bid focusing connected Gallaudet College students was criticized for its deficiency of deaf women of color, adjacent though little than fractional of the school’s students were achromatic astatine the time.

Those broader issues raised the stakes astatine places similar the Atlanta school.

Ms. Frick said the Georgia Department of Education was moving to make enactment pathways for teachers and schoolhouse staff.

Mr. Serrano, the erstwhile superintendent, declined to remark connected his acquisition with the Education Department, but helium wrote successful an email that helium hoped the section would behaviour an equitable and inclusive hunt for the adjacent superintendent.

“It is my steadfast content that students privation and request a person who ‘looks similar them’ and who shares their experiences arsenic deaf and hard of proceeding individuals,” helium wrote.

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