Parents ask why lawmakers want more oversight for AZ State School for Deaf and Blind

The House previously voted to allow the school to keep operating for 8 years, but the Senate Government Committee cut the extension from eight years to two.
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 5:07 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 5:51 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — You wouldn’t think the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind would be stirring up controversy at the state Capitol, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Parents, students and educators gathered at the state Capitol to let lawmakers know they want to have a say on the future of their school. “When I have reached out and asked to have informal meetings to discuss concerns, and to be part of the process, I’ve received absolutely no response,” said Amy Porterfield, who is legally blind.

The state House of Representatives voted unanimously last month to allow the special needs school, with campuses in Phoenix in Tucson, to keep operating for another eight years. But things hit a snag Wednesday when the Senate Government Committee cut the extension from eight years to two.

Republicans supported the cut. Democrats did not, saying it would lead to constant audits that would interfere with the education process. “What’s the reason for this?” asked State Senator Priya Sundareshan (D-Tucson). “We didn’t get a really good answer as to why this particular school has to be continued for only two years.”

Committee chairman Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) cited the need for more oversight and more scrutiny. “We have a constitutional duty to ensure that we are delivering optimal educational services for deaf and blind children of this state,” said Hoffman. “Allowing eight years to go by without legislature oversight is a failure of our job.”

Hoffman did not mention any specific incidents or red flags that would create concerns about how the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind is run.

The school has a governing board that meets twice a month. One of the speakers at Wednesday’s hearing was Academy Award winning actor Troy Kotsur, a graduate of ASDB and Mesa resident. He said the Arizona legislature has been approving extensions for the school since 1912, and lawmakers should not get in the way.

Kotsur is hoping a similar Senate bill to extend the school for five years will be approved instead. “I had so many benefits,” said Kotsur. “I found my identity there. I found who I am. I identified as a deaf person and learned ASL because of the school. I wouldn’t imagine what life would be like without it, I’d probably be struggling.”

The bills to continue operating the AZ State School for the Deaf and Blind will now move to the Senate Rules Committee.