Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ASDB Meeting Grows Tense as Board Ignores Calls to Renew Administrator's Contract

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 7:36 PM

The Tucson Weekly was going to press during today's Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind board meeting. Look in Thursday's issue for a story on student demands and staff concerns.

The board of directors of the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind decided today to hire an independent investigator to look into all complaints against its administration.

The special meeting was held at the capitol in Phoenix to address five formal complaints from staff members and the community from ASDB. More than 80 people filled the small conference room, with a dozen spilling into the hallway rendering the governor's conference room standing-room only.

A main concern was the recent decision to not renew ASDB administrator Nancy Amann's contract, an issue which has sparked student-led protests calling for the resignation of Superintendent Robert Hill and board president Bernhardt Jones and to reinstate Amann. Staff members are fearful of being put on administrative leave when standing up for students, Amann's administrative assistant and interpreter Jessica Boof Sizemore told the Range at the meeting.

Throughout March and April, according to all of the speakers, their questions have not been answered by any board member and since April they have not seen or heard from Hill. Today was the first time he had been seen in weeks, they said.

At the end of the meeting, Jones provided Hill with an excuse, saying that the superintendent's mother has been ill.

Several ASDB staff and community members were able to speak to the board. Jones made it clear to only comment on the issues explicitly on the agenda — which did not include the students' demands to reinstate Amann. Hill did not speak and Jones thanked each speaker at the end of their three minutes.

The requests and comments from speakers including a request for a neutral mediator and the resignation of Hill. Parent Rob Voreck said he supported Hill five years ago but did not recognize the man sitting in front of him.

"He used to bend over backwards and now he is only interested in himself," Voreck told the board. "I don't understand what's happened but I know he isn't wanted anymore."

A spokesperson from the National Association of the Deaf told the board this is affecting the students' futures and she recommended an independent party to address the issues. "This isn't to be taken lightly," she said.

Parent Becca Bailey asked through an interpreter to revisit Hill's contract and the board's because their terms are currently expired. "Nancy is leadership, we need to renew her contract," Bailey said.

Student body vice president Sabrina Shysh came from Tucson with three other students, including student body president Juliana Apfel. Shysh took the floor first and was initially told she could not be heard because her request and reasons to reinstate Amann were not on the agenda.

Immediately, the room grew tense. Apfel, sitting in the last row, stood up and demanded to let her and her fellow students be heard.

Jones allowed the students to continue, starting with Shysh.

"Nancy has always been available to talk. Robert Hill has not, where have you been?" said Shysh.

After two hours the board went into a private executive meeting. Audience members shouted for Hill to not attend, but he did.

Before the boards' decision, Voreck said he believes that Hill and Jones' conflict of interest is intentional (that they run a business together that certifies American Sign Language interpreters), but that Hill originally portrayed the students' outrage as a deaf community versus hearing community issue.

After 45 minutes, the board returned and said they would now look at bringing in an outside investigator for the allegations of conflict of interest. They did not comment on Hill's status. Board member G. Michael Williams said he will lead the search for an investigator who will work as a neutral party.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 20 in Phoenix.

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