The Board of Trustees of the Maryland School for the Deaf have a huge task ahead of them.
The board members must regain the confidence of the Maryland deaf community that they can restore the image of the treasured community asset with which they have been entrusted.
It is obvious that the school has become a place of deep, bitter division. Now it is up to the board to figure out why, and to make the moves that will correct the situation.
The news broke recently that a group of alumni and family sent a letter to the board claiming that Superintendent James Tucker created a toxic culture in the school predicated on racism and elitism. It called for his firing before his planned retirement next year, so that he would not collect his pension.
Tucker, who had been superintendent since 1992, quickly retired a year early from his post, clearing the way for a full investigation.
We have no way of judging whether the accusations against Tucker are justified or not. But the fact that they have been made puts the burden on the board of trustees to get to the bottom of this — and quickly.
The response of the board indicates that at least some of the complaints have merit. Now Robert Davila, president of the board, must lead the way.
Davila told News-Post reporter Katryna Perera that he and his fellow trustees are aware of issues present within the school and are taking steps to make sure MSD Frederick becomes a more equitable and inclusive space.
Madison Craig, who graduated from MSD in 2014, told our reporter in an interview conducted in American Sign Language that she and others formed an organization called “Voices of MSD Survivors” to share stories and to advocate for change.
The group sent the letter alleging widespread problems. It said in part:
“MSD has long boasted as being one of the top schools for the Deaf across the country, but only elite white Deaf students have benefited from it. We fear for the well-being and safety of current and future BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] and non-elite white Deaf students at MSD.”
Maryland School for the Deaf provides free, public education to deaf and hard-of-hearing residents in Maryland from birth until the age of 21. The school operates a lower school campus in Columbia and a high school campus in Frederick.
The “Voices of MSD Survivors” Facebook contains claims of bullying and racism by staff and coaches at the Frederick school, as well as charges that a “class” divide exists at the school.
Alumni say students whose families have attended MSD and are generationally deaf — meaning their parents and most family members are deaf — get preferential treatment over students who were born into hearing families or whose families did not attend MSD.
Alumni also claim students whose parents or relatives work at MSD receive preferential treatment for educational and extracurricular opportunities.
Davila said the board is “unequivocally committed” to eliminating any racism or other issues that exist. He told The News-Post that the board has begun to address complaints raised in the letter.
Among the changes already underway, the board will hire a chief diversity officer by the start of the school year. Six workgroups are creating recommendations to transform MSD into a more equitable and inclusive school, Davila said.
This looks to be a strong beginning to the work that must be done at MSD. We commend the trustees for taking these accusations seriously and for thinking deeply about the changes that must be made.
The hiring of a new superintendent will be the next big test, and it is vital for the trustees to make a great choice. The Maryland School for the Deaf, an integral part of the fabric of this community since its founding in 1868, can do no less.