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Vermont Center For The Deaf And Hard Of Hearing To Close

Susan Keese
The Austine School, Vermont's only school for the deaf, will close permanently.

The Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing plans to close by the end of September. The center’s trustees made the decision at an emergency meeting late last week, citing ongoing financial problems as the cause.

The center provides a wide range of services for the deaf and hard of hearing. It’s headquartered on the sprawling campus of the Austine School in Brattleboro. The 100-year-old residential school has been under the center’s umbrella since 1998.

Trustees closed the Austine School in June for what they hoped would be a two-year hiatus while they tried to find new revenue sources and get their finances on track.

But board chairman Thomas Sonneborn says it hasn’t worked out.

The campus is a large campus. We have seven buildings and we have over 150 acres and it cost a lot of money to maintain that. And when you have declining enrollment or very few clients in our education programs, the property becomes unmanageable,” said Sonneborn.

Administrators link Austine School’s declining enrollment to the rise of "mainstreaming" in public schools for deaf and hard of hearing students. They say medical and technical advances have made it easier for deaf children to live in their own communities.  

The Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing also works with about 600 deaf and hard of hearing students in public schools throughout the state. Other programs include American Sign Language classes, interpreter referrals, audiology and hearing aid services and a bi-lingual preschool.

Sonneborn says many of those services will  reorganize and continue elsewhere.

About 40 jobs will be eliminated, in addition to the 50 staff positions that ended when the Austine School closed in June.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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