Oklahoma School For The Blind Relieved That Charter School Bill Failed

Tuesday, February 19th 2013, 6:33 pm
By: Craig Day

Supporters of the school for the blind are breathing a sigh of relief, after a senate committee shot down a proposal they say would have threatened the school in Muskogee.

It would have given the go-ahead to create charter schools to teach blind students, giving parents more options other than sending their child to Muskogee.

But school supporters say it would have done more harm than good.

The 98 students, who go to the Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee, benefit from highly specialized staff, equipment and curriculum. Parent-Teacher Organization President Linda Graber, whose granddaughter attends the school, said the work they do was threatened by the proposed Senate bill.

"We were afraid the school would no longer be here. And for those of us who are here and involved and have children here, it means everything to their education," Graber said.

Senate Bill 858 would have enabled the creation of charter schools to teach blind students, but school leaders feared it would hurt the quality of education for blind students.

"It would possibly cause our students to not receive the specialized instruction that they get here from our teaching staff," said Principal Carolyn Sheppard.

9/26/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Blind Students Get Hands-On Lessons With Horses

The bill failed to make it out of committee.

Sheppard said she was, "Relieved—it was very comforting, knowing that they realize the benefits of having us here."

School leaders had several issues with the charter idea. First, they said it could drop their enrollment, meaning less funding to keep the doors open.

"It would give parents an option of someplace else to go, and if they chose to go there, then eventually the numbers would drop and the school would no longer be here. They couldn't afford to keep it," Graber said.

They also say charter schools would be less likely to have the expertise offered at the school for the blind.

"The teachers that are so specialized here, you know, they just don't grow on trees. You have to train for that," Graber said.

Even though the measure failed, there is still concern it could come up for consideration again in the future, so school leaders and volunteers say they'll work hard to inform people about what they do and the difference they make.

The bill's author was unavailable for comment.

Opponents of the measure said it could also have impacted the Oklahoma School for the Deaf in Sulphur.