July 1, 2008

Goodbye to an Old School


By Lauren Roth

The Virginian-Pilot


Although the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi- Disabled had only 41 students at the end, it had many more friends.

Some of them gathered Monday night to say one last goodbye to the 99-year-old school. The last employees closed the school hours earlier.

Holding candles and backlit cell phones, about 100 parents, students, staffers and advocates gathered to hear speeches and to pray.

The vigil was arranged by the Coalition for the Preservation of the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled at Hampton.

"We gather, in a way, to say farewell to an era, but not to a dream," co-chairman Ralph Shelman said. "To say farewell to this part of history as black people, black disabled people and a black community that cares about its disabled children."

The Hampton school opened in September 1909 as the Virginia School for Colored Deaf and Blind Children, according to the school's Web site. It desegregated in the early 1970s.

As enrollment fell from as many as 500 students in the mid-1970s to several dozen this year, the school moved toward specialization in vocational training for students with significant cognitive impairments. The school offered a residential program, a day program, and a preschool for children who have cochlear implants.

About half of the remaining student population hailed from Hampton Roads.

As the school closed, staffers didn't feel ready to leave, said Australia Lynch, an assistant. "I've seen miraculous things happening in children's lives that come to this school."

Lauren Roth (757) 222-5133, [email protected]

Originally published by BY LAUREN ROTH.

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