FLINT, MI – A meeting has been set for parents and students to address their concerns as Michigan School for the Deaf looks to find a new leader.
The meeting is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 18 in the Jeter Center at the school, located at 1235 W. Court St., in Flint and comes after several people held a protest outside the building over the hiring process and other issues.
Turnover has taken place in the principal’s spot in recent days following the resignation of Natalie Grupido in April. She’d taken over the position in August 2016 after Cecelia Winkler resigned.
Winkler had held the job since 2001. She died in January 2018 at 63 years old following a battle with cancer.
Sarah Houston’s 10-year-old son has attended the school since he was in kindergarten.
She was among a group of roughly 20 people standing in the rain on June 13 — the last day of school – holding signs reading “My School My Way” and “Help Wanted: A Culturally And Linguistically Appropriate Principal.”
“I put my kid here for a reason. To get education, direct education from his teachers, direct communication with his principal, or campus manager,” Houston said. “There’s a language policy here and it’s not being followed.” A part of the concerns voiced include school administrators not being proficient in American Sign Language.
“If you think about it, in a hearing world kids sit around and they hear their parents talk about different things and they learn that way,” explained Houston. “When they’re walking down the hall and you have adults conversing with their voices and not signing, they’re missing out on little things.”
Martin Ackley, director of public and governmental affairs for the Michigan Department of Education, said in an email to MLive-The Flint Journal that ASL is “definitely preferred” in the candidates for those filling jobs at the school. The department oversees the administration of the school.
“There is a school policy that if you are not proficient in ASL, you must have an interpreter with you,” he noted. “It is our understanding that approximately 75 percent of the administrators of all the schools for the deaf across the nation are hearing people.”
Parent Rosemary Langevin argued that communication needs to improve in the school, including with the hiring process for a new principal.
“These are not their children. These are our children,” she said through an ASL interpreter. “We want to be involved. We want to have the best education for our deaf children. They deserve what’s best for their future.”
Scott Koenigsknecht, deputy state superintendent, said there have been interviews for a temporary principal. Charles Thomas, MSD’s Campus Manager, has been serving as principal since Grupido’s resignation.
“Filling this role temporarily will provide us with the time to launch an official process for seeking a permanent principal,” he said. “That process for seeking a permanent principal will include capturing the thoughts of the parents, the students and the broader deaf community.”
Students including Lucas Grimm, 16, and Jake Zanavich, 16, put up messages last week in the school building regarding their displeasure in administrators not knowing ASL that they say were taken down by a staff member.
“They were our voice. We weren’t hurting anyone,” said Zanavich through an ASL interpreter. “We were just saying what we wanted to say … it got their attention.”
The students called for an open interview process for the next principal.
“I’m happy these people are here. They did this for us,” said Grimm of the protest. “MSD students are very important. This is their education. We don’t want anyone to be language deprived.”