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A group of parents from Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind called for the ouster of the schools' superintendent outside a State Board of Education meeting on Thursday. But the board took no action on the question of whether Steven Noyce will stay on the job.
Noyce took the post in August 2009 with the expectation of at least a two-year term. The board recently conducted a comprehensive evaluation of his performance, surveying both employees and parents, at the prodding of some deaf-education advocates. The board could make a decision about his employment at its June meeting, Noyce said in an interview.
Thursday's rally highlights ongoing tension at the school between its two programs: American Sign Language (ASL), which teaches English as a second language; and listening-and-spoken language (LSL), which relies on new technologies to help deaf children listen and speak without signing.
Two dozen supporters of the ASL program were at Thursday's rally, pushing for Noyce's removal. They worry Noyce favors the listening and speaking program. Meanwhile, parents in the LSL program e-mailed a petition with 395 signatures supporting Noyce to the state education board.
Jennifer Jackson, whose ninth-grade son attends the state-run Jean Massieu School of the Deaf (JMS) in Salt Lake City, attended the rally with a hot pink sign that read "Permanent furlough for Steve Noyce," alluding to three furlough days Noyce announced recently to plug a $600,000 shortfall in the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind budget.
She fears Noyce is steering parents away from the ASL program and eventually will shut down JMS due to dwindling enrollment. More than 70 percent of parents have been choosing LSL for their children, who often have cochlear implants.
Jackson said her son has "flourished" in his 11 years at JMS but now "he's scared to death that he's not going to have a school."
But Noyce said he has supported the school, noting he grew enrollment there this year when he added high school grades, a change that parents had sought for years.
"Their purpose is to demonstrate that ASL should be part of the program for every child with a hearing loss. I can't support that," Noyce said. "It needs to be an option for every family. But I don't think every family should have to choose that as their only option."
Anissa Wardell, a Heber City parent of two children in the LSL program, launched the petition drive in support of Noyce.
"We believe Steve Noyce works tirelessly in his efforts to reach his stated goal and provides equal support to both program," the petition says.
Wardell worries parents in the ASL program are drowning out the voices of others. Seventy-nine percent of deaf students at USDB are in the listening-and-spoken-language program.
"I've never found [the superintendent] to be anything but kind and informative," she said. "Every parent has the right to choose for their child."