Gov. Sanders vows to fulfill ‘promise’ for deaf, blind students in Arkansas with push for new facilities

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders vowed to deliver a “quality education” for deaf and blind students in the state in an announcement at the state capitol Wednesday.

“…[T]wo schools…

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders vowed to deliver a “quality education” for deaf and blind students in the state in an announcement at the state capitol Wednesday.

“…[T]wo schools were built as a promise to deaf, blind, and visually impaired Arkansans – a promise that they deserve a quality education just as much as any other student. Sadly, for far too long, our state has failed to keep its word,” Sanders said, speaking about the Arkansas School for the Deaf (ASD) and the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ASBVI), reported Southwest Arkansas Today (SWARK). 

Sanders is well-known as one of the leaders of education reform in the nation.

She instituted a series of reforms known as the Arkansas LEARNS Act, which brought the state universal school choice, skills-based learning and literacy reform.  

Recent tours of the facilities for deaf and blind students revealed crumbling exteriors and leaky, drafty interiors that are at odds with the dedication of the schools’ teachers, said Sanders, according to local KAIT News 8. 

ABSVI was originally built in 1868, but moved to a new site in 1939.  

Video from local THV11, which aired Nov. 2023, showed the condition of the school, shocking both legislators and viewers and serving as an impetus for action on new facilities.  

The video shows cracked walls, leaking ceilings, roof damage and moldy interiors.   

“I have seen the inside, and I can just recognize from being on the outside, that things are not in an acceptable condition there,” Republican state Sen. Bart Hester told THV11. “The problem is real, we are spending the money. We need to see results from that money, and now’s the time, not later.” 

Sanders has consulted with architects and engineers to rebuild the schools at their current “historic” locations, said SWAK. 

The state will use an initial $30 million already approved by the Legislature in 2021 to kick-off the funding for the two, new state-of-the-art schools, said local ABC News affiliate KATV 7. 

The new schools will have separate buildings for deaf and blind students, but will share some administrative areas and a dining hall, said KATV.  

“We are so grateful that the attention has been given to the schools because we believe in the education of blind and visually impaired and deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals,” said Cary Smith, an ASBVI parent, according to SWARK. “We are so grateful for the opportunity for the school to improve. We know it can be better. And we have the people and the educators in place now.” 

Secretary Oliva said that the current facilities have resulted in low student achievement and limited outcomes, to go along with the crumbling infrastructure.  

“The commitment from the governor, legislators, school faculty and staff, and the local board empower us to move closer to ensuring students have access to state-of-the-art, high-quality facilities that promote safety and learning,” said Oliva, reported SWARK.  

The new plan will emphasize keeping the schools in their current location, providing more resources for deaf and blind students outside the Little Rock area and maintaining school safety, said KAIT. 

But Oliva cautioned that they still have a lot of work to do before the project is completed.  

“We look forward to continuing the conversation with all stakeholders, as we seek the establishment of a facility where students can thrive,” said Oliva.