Utah State University announces bilingual-bicultural program closure

Feb 8, 2022, 7:30 AM | Updated: 1:08 pm
(FILE: Utah State University)...
(FILE: Utah State University)
(FILE: Utah State University)

SALT LAKE CITY — There could soon be fewer teachers available to teach Utah’s deaf students American Sign Language. Utah State University is closing the bilingual-bicultural track for its master’s program in Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education.

Program closure

A statement from the University’s Dean of Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services says there was a lapse in accreditation status, which sparked a review. That review showed the program track was “not operationally sound.”

Dean Al Smith says the master’s track didn’t meet the expectations of what it calls “high-quality education.”

Michelle Tanner, associate superintendent of the Deaf at Utah’s Schools for Deaf and Blind, said she hasn’t seen anything that would indicate that teachers aren’t up to par.

“They are the strongest, the graduates that I get from Utah State, and so it’s just very inaccurate to say that they’re not high-quality graduates because I’ve hired them and I know they are,” Tanner said.

The Education and Human Services Dean said they will keep the university’s undergraduate ASL curriculum in place, and the department will work on strengthening it. But Tanner said they need teachers with a master’s degree to do the kind of critical work needed to teach Utah’s deaf students.

Not just Utah is impacted by program closure

And it’s not just Utah that will see an impact from the program closing. Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind also recruits from Utah State.

“I have had one position vacancy open all year. It’s been open since last spring for teacher of the deaf in the reading department, which is one of the most critical areas that our students need instruction in,” said Janna Hasko, the principal of the deaf/hard of hearing program at Idaho’s School.

She says Idaho State has a teacher of the deaf preparation program similar to USU’s that it’s been revamping for the last couple years, so there aren’t many opportunities to recruit teachers from there.

Holly Hanson George is the parent of a deaf senior at Kenneth Burdett School of the Deaf in Ogden. She says without USU’s program, some students won’t get the education that they need.

“And the only thing that gives me comfort, is the fact that my son is graduating in May. But on the same hand, I’m deeply saddened for all his classmates who are younger than him. Because what does their future look like? They don’t have the same opportunity for great teachers that my son has had.”

She says even with hearing aids, her son can’t understand what people are saying. But he speaks ASL, so George says he can thrive in his school environment.

She says not all kids have residual hearing, and so they need teachers who can teach ASL.

“They’re forcing these kids to learn in a one size fits all method, which is not practical. Not every deaf child can hear, even with devices, and so they need the opportunity to learn visually with ASL.” 

Will the program ever resume?

It’s unclear if the university will ever resume the program. Students currently working to get their master’s degree will still be able to finish by spring 2023.

In a prepared statement from a university spokesperson on the program closure, she said they’ve attempted to address the issues without success, and the program is suspended without intention to resume in its current form.

Tanner says she’s been working with Utah Valley University. And she’s hopeful they will create deaf education program because they have a strong deaf studies program. But she says that decision is ultimately in the hands of UVU.

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Utah State University announces bilingual-bicultural program closure