Fight audism and advocate for accountability and transparency at TN School f/t Deaf

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On March 19, 2018, Dr. Nancylynn Ward, the Tennessee Schools for the Deaf’s first Deaf Superintendent in its’ 174-year history has been unexpectedly, unceremoniously and abruptly discharged from her employment after 9 months by the Tennessee Department of Education with no explanation nor was there any accusation of fraud, wrong doing or misconduct.  Nor was there any due process employed, if there were any indication of “issues” they were not properly identified nor were they addressed in a proper forum.  The statement on her termination papers was that “her executive appointment at the school has ended.”

This leads the stakeholders and the community at the Tennessee Schools for the Deaf to believe discriminatory practices lie at the root of Dr. Ward’s dismissal.  The stakeholders have beenincreasingly aware of the discriminatory practices that have been in place at the school, and as exercised by the Tennessee Department of Education in spite of Dr. Ward’s attempts to address those age-old problems which included but was not limited to discrimination practices towards the deaf, known as‘Audism’; and hearing privilege that was rampant on campus.  

 There were incidences of where there were individuals who felt that new opportunities should be granted to people who were “favorites” of certain people or given to those who were at the school for a long time over those who have the drive, talent and ability and a better fit for the position in question.

 The term ‘Audism’ is a word to describe the notion that a person is more superior based on their ability to hear or to behave in a manner that a person who can hear does. It also is the view that life without the ability to hear is so miserable, and that it is always better to have the ability to hear. It is also a negative view and/or treatment towards deaf people. These negative views usually lead into negative actions towards deaf people.

 An example of Audism would be when a person that can hear may think of a deaf person as being lesser than they are, simply on the fact that they cannot hear, and that we – as deaf people—need their “help,” or otherwise unable to realize our potential just because the “system failed us.” This usually leads to loss of job opportunities, inability for a deaf person to climb the corporate ladder, and have adverse actions that border on bullying, harassment and intimidation, against the deaf person in the workplace. This leads to Deaf people being oppressed as well as denied the same opportunities that everyone else are given.  These practices also creates a standard where a person can hear is able to make things happen or implement policies without resistance and creates a subculture based on oppression.

 Typically, a deaf administrator will practice inclusion, and this was the case with Dr. Ward.  She created an school culture, in 9 months, that was based on lack of intimidation, belief that everyone should have the same opportunities and encouraged open dialogue.  Regardless, it is common for deaf administrators have to work harder and they face more challenges than a person that could hear, because they are not given the same level of support that privileged people that can hear receive.

 The term ‘hearing privilege’ is a term given to people that can hear, and are either accidentally or intentionally unaware of a deaf person’s needs, social isolation that comes with loss of hearing. It can impact education access, social services, social network, legal access, and workplaces. In some situations, they are simply unwilling to accommodate.

 This has generated a pervasive environment of oppression and discriminatory practices on campus which Dr. Ward attempted to stop and reverse.  This attempt to integrate new practices and changes upset the balance of ages of discrimination and practices on campus upset a number of hearing individuals who incidentally had ties to Tennessee Department of Education and it is thought that those same individuals went behind Dr. Ward’s back and made false accusations and misrepresentation of her leadership practices at the school.  These are the same group of people who were upset about Dr. Ward’s appointment to the Superintendence of the schools (Knoxville and Jackson); and there was fear that the Deaf, for the first time, would have an opportunity to move into leadership roles that would allow for more ownership in shaping the future of Deaf children by creating and establishing role models that would exemplifying the upset of balance that had been in place for decades at the school.  We, as a school community, have endured erroneous judgement, limitations, misunderstanding, lack of respect and devaluing deaf leadership and deaf culture and this must stop.

 Dr. Ward’s appointment was earth-shattering in the sense that for the first time, deaf children at the school would be exposed todeaf leadership, a quality education, a better ability to contribute to society, and develop a higher sense of self value. Under Dr. Ward’s guidance, both campuses in Jackson and Knoxville was for the first time, being exposed to a quality education that could produce more a happier and more productive end result. Dr. Ward was working on partnering with school districts, serving as a resource throughout the state, and working with local school districts that serve deaf and hard of hearing students in a mainstream environment.  

 Ironically, the interim administration has elected to keep every aspect was Dr. Ward’s vision of positive changes by promoting new ideas, educational strategies, encouraging growth and capitalizing on opportunities in a way that would showcase the strengths of the Deaf community and its’ achievements by generating access to opportunities educationally, socially, emotionally, and as well as culturally.  It has been stated several times since Dr. Ward’s dismissal that it is the desire of Tennessee Department of Education to maintain and build on the momentum that had been generated under Dr. Ward’s leadership as well as “addressing Audism” on campus.  This is the first time Tennessee Department of Education has publically admitted that this does exist on campus, after months of inaction when this was a topic brought up by Dr. Ward.

 According to the State Board of Education policies and regulations that are in place specifically for State Special Schools where there is a citation that…” All State Special Schools employees cannot be terminated without cause…”; If that is true, then, this raises the question whether the events related to Dr. Ward's dismissal may have been illegal. What also must be addressed are the mismanaged employment directives within the Tennessee Department of Education, given by Governor Bill Haslam.  Governor Haslam has made it clear that all employees must be given performance plan and given an opportunity to address issues on a remedial basis.  This was not done.

These issues are of concern because they do not encourage or support any employee being treated fairly, nor does it support the idea of transparency within our government.

 We, the stakeholders of the Tennessee Schools for the Deaf, request the opening of an investigation to be lodged against the Tennessee Department of Education.  We demand to know the rationale and cause of the firing, the lack of use of due process and lack of accountability to the Educational Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children we serve as well as the Deaf Community who has a vested interest in the Tennessee Schools for the Deaf.

 We request that all angles, involving improper misconduct, discriminatory practices that may have resulted in Dr. Ward’s termination, be investigated, addressed and reported to the community that has a vested interest in Dr. Ward’s continued employment as the Superintendent of the Tennessee Schools for the Deaf.

 We, the undersigned of this petition, request that an investigation be opened against the Tennessee Department of Education.



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