According to the dictionary a 'monitor' is a person who 'advises, warns, or cautions.' A Braille monitor is one who carries on this function for the blind, and this is the pledge of the editors of this magazine.
So wrote the first editor of the Braille Monitor in the inaugural issue of the monthly journal in July, 1957. Editor George Card's announcement somewhat blurred the significance of the event by presenting the Monitor not as a brand new periodical which in fact it was but as the continuation under a new name of an already existing publication of a very different kind. That was the All-Story Braille Magazine, a publication of the American Brotherhood for the Blind which was reasonably faithful to the promise of its title by publishing mainly short fiction with a limited space reserved for a Federation News Section. Now all that would be changed, said the editor:
Beginning with the next monthly issue the name of this magazine will be changed to the Braille Monitor. We have been fortunate to be able to return to a monthly [from a quarterly] issue. This is made possible by a subvention from the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation News Section has become increasingly popular. Many of our readers have written in to request that more space be devoted to this feature. Program and other developments concerning the blind many of which are of the utmost importance to the blind men and women of this country have been emerging in profusion. Even with the return to the monthly issue, a major fraction of the space of this magazine must be devoted to the coverage of these developments if our people are to continue to be informed.
Before the birth of the Monitor in 1957, as that inaugural statement indicates, the organized blind movement lacked a full set of lungs with which to vocalize its message of Security, Opportunity, and Equality. Limited as it was in this respect to the back pages of a fiction magazine, the fledgling Federation found other ways to convey its message during the seventeen years from its founding to the advent of the Monitor. The most effective of those ways was also the most basic: the typewriter/mimeograph combination. From the earliest penny-pinched days in 1940 and 1941 when the entire national organization was seemingly contained in a shoe-box flat next door to the University of Chicago, the word of Federationism was spread primarily by means of bulletins, flyers, and broadsides which were devised and dictated by Jacobus tenBroek, typed by Hazel tenBroek, and cranked out by both of them on that granddaddy of Xerox: the mimeograph machine.
But the will to find their own full voice, and the dream that would one day be realized in the form of the Braille Monitor, were there from the beginning in the minds of the founders. Almost immediately after the initial National Convention at Wilkes-Barre in 1940, an exchange of letters (which clearly followed earlier discussions) took place between NFB President tenBroek and Perry Sundquist, then the Executive Secretary of the American Brotherhood for the Blind, which published the All-Story Magazine. Sundquist opened the exchange with this overture:
For some time I have been searching for some means by which the American Brotherhood could use its slender resources to a more vital purpose and the thought has occurred to me that perhaps some arrangement could be made whereby it could publish a monthly bulletin or magazine of the Federation purely as a service to the Federation in advancing its purposes among the blind of the member states and of other states. As you know, Pennsylvania puts out, quarterly or so, a little paper entitled We the Blind and doubtless this is a potent means of furthering the organization. Well, the Federation could put out a national magazine.
It certainly would be a godsend, wrote tenBroek in reply, if the National Federation of the Blind could have at its service a magazine devoted to a discussion of the legislative problems of the blind. Such a magazine would be especially important if it gave us a monthly contact with our members and if it were directly available to them in Braille. He went on to emphasize the vital importance of a regular channel of communication with reference to the NFB's social and political objectives: One of the immensely difficult problems that the National Federation has to face is that of communication with the blind throughout the nation, and that communication needs to be fairly frequent if not constant with respect to the activities of the organization which will deal almost wholly with legislative and administrative problems.
That emphatic, no-nonsense stress upon the public agenda of the Federation as the dominant concern of any magazine it might initiate reflected the serious, not to say grim, earnestness of the early leaders in the face of the political and economic urgencies of their time: the grinding poverty of nearly all the adult blind, the uncomprehending and indifferent attitudes of most public officials, the blithe complacency of professional workers for the blind who viewed themselves proudly as the guardians and caretakers of a hopeless minority doomed to physical immobility, cultural illiteracy, and economic irrelevance.
Jacobus tenBroek and his colleagues of the first generation might also have felt grim concerning the prospects of the infant Federation within a wartime economy in which communications and travel were severely restricted for all civilian groups and nonmilitary purposes. It was evidently with some reluctance that these leaders accepted the compromise arrangement of a Federation supplement in the All-Story, which blind readers turned to less for education than for entertainment. In 1942 Raymond Henderson, then Executive Director of the Federation, issued a bulletin to the membership which contained this wistful and even rueful report on the quest for a journal:
The All-Story Braille Magazine is continuing to print almost every month three or four pages on legislation for the blind edited by Dr. Newel Perry. We need a small magazine devoted to the work of the Federation. However our finances are still insufficient and the difficulties in securing metal plates and paper for printing may delay the establishment of such a magazine. We are informed that our mimeographed bulletins are read and discussed at the meetings of many of the local clubs of the blind. The Executive Director of the National Federation of the Blind would be interested in having opinions as to the desirability of such a Braille publication. However we must again remember that in the present situation it may prove impossible to secure the printing of such a publication even if our finances could stand the strain. In this as in so many other things we must all be patient but we must not allow our interest to flag.
Their interest in a small magazine devoted to the work of the Federation certainly did not flag during the remainder of the war years; but even after the war the hopes of the early leaders for a full-fledged independent journal of their own gave way to reluctant acceptance of the status quo (somewhat expanded). In the fall of 1945, less than two months after war's end, Jacobus tenBroek sent a letter to all the blind on his mailing list announcing a significant enlargement of the Federation's section in All-Story and urging their subscription to the magazine. He made a point of mentioning that the Federation's pages were under the editorship of the man who was his own mentor and the pioneer of blind self-organization in California: Dr. Newel Perry. His letter follows:
National Federation of the Blind
Office of the President
October 9, 1945
A discussion in Braille of national and state legislation affecting the blind and other items of interest to blind persons is now available to all blind readers of grade two. The American Brotherhood for the Blind, publishers of the All-Story Braille Magazine, have now enlarged and put upon a systematic basis the section of that magazine dealing with legislation. The magazine is published monthly and may be secured by simply dropping a card to the American Brotherhood for the Blind, 117 West Ninth Street, Los Angeles, California.
The editor of the legislation section is Dr. Newel Perry, 6441-A Colby Street, Oakland 9, California, who is the venerable leader of the blind in California and whose work in the National Federation of the Blind is known to all. Readers of the legislation section are thus assured of an authentic analysis of legislative and other problems of the blind, treated from the viewpoint of the blind themselves.
In the past, the blind have been greatly handicapped in their efforts to improve the conditions under which they live by the absence of adequate means of communication among the blind and between the representatives of the blind and the persons represented. The obvious remedy for this condition is the legislation section of the All-Story Braille Magazine. It will serve as a continuous means of contact among the blind, as an instrument for the dissemination of information vitally affecting their welfare, and as a clearing house of their activities in supporting favorable and seeking to defeat harmful legislative or other action.
In the interests of the welfare of the blind, I urge you to apply for and become a regular reader of the All-Story Braille Magazine and to send items of interest to Dr. Perry.
The National Federation continued to speak with that muted voice for another dozen years before it could exercise its full lung power. The title page from a typical monthly issue of All-Story (October 1949) read: THE ALL-STORY BRAILLE MAGAZINE with Legislative Supplement; The 'Supplement' is the Official Mouthpiece of the National Federation of the Blind. And the contents of another issue during that year suggested the low priority given to NFB materials in a journalistic context dominated by fictional romance and melodrama. Here is the contents page of the March 1949, issue:
"Married This Morning," by Irene Kittle Camp (reprinted from the Good Housekeeping Magazine)
"The Storm," by Laurence Critchell (reprinted from Collier's)
"Star Boarder," by Libbie Block (reprinted from McCall's)
"Legislation for the Blind," by Dr. Newel Perry
The transition from All-Story to the Braille Monitor was preceded by a series of strategic shifts apparently designed to prepare readers for the advent of a No-Story Braille magazine devoted exclusively to Federation concerns. In 1955 a special feature was announced by All-Story Editor George Card which dramatically changed the layout and the character of the venerable journal for that special issue from a literary to an organizational purpose. Clearly the editor and his colleagues were testing the waters to ascertain the tolerance of readers for a new kind of magazine: a voice of Federationism that would speak not of fantasy but of truth, and would explore in its pages not the never-never land of imagination but the barren landscape of the here and now the world of harsh reality (of broomcorn and sawdust, ridicule and rejection) in which the blind must somehow make their way and find their place, by their own exertions, or else fall back upon the charity and pity of their overseers and lighthouse keepers.
That special (February-March, 1955) issue of All-Story also introduced a new feature which was destined to become a permanent and integral part of the Monitor, continuously upgraded through the years but never altered in format. This is how the innovation was announced:
Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind (Special Feature)
Legislation for the Blind, by Dr. Newel Perry
We are proud to present in this issue a special feature, Who are the Blind Who Lead the Blind? which has just been released by the National Federation of the Blind. This consists of short biographies which undoubtedly will be of great interest to the readers of All-Story. Because of the importance of this feature, it is being included in this issue in the space which would ordinarily be allocated to short stories.
There was another subtle change in the format of the Federation supplement in this premonitory (pre-Monitor) period; the title page of the February-March, 1956, issue of All-Story reflected a slight but significant expansion of the scope of Federation information; now it was not just legislative and other official material that was carried but Federation News, suggesting a wider interest in general news that was to become more and more prominent over the years in the evolution of the Braille Monitor.
Under the headline "All-Story Gets a New Name", Editor George Card tactfully announced the advent of the Braille Monitor in the issue of July, 1957. As noted earlier, he indicated that the change in format and content was responsive to reader demands as well as to a grant from the National Federation of the Blind. And he was careful not to rule out the future inclusion of stories altogether; here is his meticulous circumlocution: It therefore seems appropriate that we should now change the name of the magazine to one that does not state or imply that all of the contents are stories. Stories will continue to be republished to the extent that space is available.
When the first issue of the Braille Monitor under its new name appeared the following month (August, 1957), it was all news and contained no stories. The point had been made; from now on the Monitor would be primarily devoted to Federation news and it would be truly a monitor one who advises, warns, or cautions. The leaders of the movement had named their journal well; it was destined to advise the membership, warn the agencies established to give service to the blind, and caution the world. It was not to be all at once everything it could be; that would come in the fullness of time, with growth and maturity. But from the outset the Braille Monitor showed its potential; it showed its colors; and it showed its teeth. There would be no truckling to the dominant interests in the field, whether of the government or of the private sector. Thus the July, 1957, issue (announcing the name change) proclaimed on page one that An attitude of arrogance and hostility was displayed toward the organized blind on the part of the highest officials of the Federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the course of a Washington conference between NFB and HEW. The unsigned article (clearly reflecting the prose style as well as the sentiments of President Jacobus tenBroek) went on to assert that the atmosphere of the 'discussion' may be briefly and accurately summarized as chaotic and disorganized; the attitude of the federal officials as intemperate and hostile; the results as wholly negative and discouraging.
The tone set on that opening page with reference to government officialdom was matched the following month in an article (again unsigned but easily identifiable) concerned with actions of the two most powerful private agencies in the blindness system. Headlined AAWB and AFB Initiate Attacks On Blind Right to Organize Bills, the editorial article struck back vigorously at agency statements in opposition to the Kennedy Bill protecting the right of the blind to organize and to be consulted on programs affecting them. In its totality, the Monitor said of a resolution from the American Association of Workers for the Blind, this statement adds up to a graphic and unmistakable expression of the anti-democratic custodial philosophy espoused since ancient times by those who have considered themselves the masters of their incompetent blind wards. Again: even if this blatantly authoritarian theory of government were to be accepted, a stark factual question would remain of the real extent of `professional' competence possessed by these antiquarian custodians and lighthouse keepers.
That tone of aggressive defense of the rights of blind persons, and of untiring vigilance against the foes of liberty in all the seats of power, was to remain through the years a defining characteristic of Monitor journalism under a succession of editors and leaders. What is striking in retrospect is the remarkable note of confidence of self-assertion born of self-esteem expressed by the Monitor at a time when the organized blind movement was still in its adolescence and the condition of the blind still shrouded in insecurity and dependence. It was as if (to recall an earlier episode of crisis leadership in the nation) President Jacobus tenBroek of the National Federation of the Blind was announcing to all the blind in all the sheltered shops and blind alleys of America:
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
In order to get the message to that national constituency, however, more was needed than a Braille publication. Some even of the totally blind did not read Braille; most who were partially blind did not. Efforts began immediately to add to the Braille edition an inkprint version of the Monitor, and as soon as possible a recorded edition as well. In fact it appears that a tape-recorded version came first, if only in partial form. As early as July of 1957 an NFB Bulletin announced (and the September Braille Monitor restated):
A lending library of tape recordings, designed to give as wide coverage as possible to National Federation news and activities, is presently in process of development. Tapes will be available shortly for a two-week loan period, without charge, to affiliated clubs, chapters, or members of the National Federation of the Blind. The first tape recordings available will cover the 1957 National Convention, either in whole or in part (selected speeches and reports). The Federation News Section of the Braille Monitor (formerly the All-Story Magazine) will also be available on tape recording. These recordings may also be purchased at two dollars a tape.
Given the difficulties of reel-to-reel tape recording in those pre-cassette days, however, efforts to secure a spoken version of the Monitor also took another direction. Following the 1958 Boston convention, the Monitor reported that the Executive Committee had adopted a motion by Kenneth Jernigan that the cost of recording each issue of the Braille Monitor on disc records, which could be played on the standard Talking Book machine, be investigated, and that each local affiliate and state organization be informed of this cost, in terms of a twelve-month subscription. The Monitor went on to report that: If 100 subscriptions should be received, with payment in advance, the Federation would then proceed to enter into an arrangement for the regular recording of each monthly issue. Finally, if the required number of paid subscriptions should be received, the first batch of recordings should be sufficiently large so that each state and local affiliate could be sent one sample recording.
Whether the paid subscriptions for this venture fell short of the number required, or for some other reason left unexplained, the disc-recorded edition of the Monitor was delayed a full decade and did not make its appearance until July, 1968 in time to record a special memorial issue, Jacobus tenBroek: The Man and the Movement, and to make it available to the membership at the National Convention in Des Moines that month.
Fortunately the inkprint edition of the Braille Monitor was not similarly delayed, although it remained in jeopardy for a time due to the costs it imposed. The first print edition actually produced and distributed was the issue of January, 1958, (although later transcriptions were to give the impression, still retained in bound volumes, of an earlier publication date). Here is the announcement as it appeared in that initial print issue:
It has at last become possible to issue an inkprint edition of the Braille Monitor. The demand for such a publication has become overwhelming. For the time being, the publication of the inkprint edition will be experimental. Members of the NFB who are now on the mailing list will automatically receive the inkprint edition. Other friends of the Federation and interested persons may have their names placed on the mailing list by writing to NFB Headquarters, 2652 Shasta Road, Berkeley 8, California.
The costs of off-setting and mailing are high. These costs should be met by the readers. The normal way of doing this would be to charge for subscriptions. On the other hand, all Federation members and friends who do not read Braille and who can read or have read the inkprint edition should have an opportunity to gain first-hand acquaintance with Federation news. All readers who wish to do so should send $3.00 to Federation headquarters to help meet expenses. Contributions should be made payable to Braille Monitor Inkprint Edition. If not enough people do so, we may have to discontinue the inkprint edition.
For three years, from mid-summer 1957, through December, 1960, the Monitor appeared every month without interruption in both Braille and print with the American Brotherhood for the Blind continuing to function as publisher of the Braille edition while the Federation published the print version. What happened then was as chaotic as it was catastrophic: the abrupt cessation of publishing in any format, the disappearance of the Monitor for four and a half years, the emergence and short (four-year) life of the Blind American, the travail and departure of the original editor. It is a story of civil war reflected in columns of print. The events of the war itself have been recounted in Chapter Three of this volume; the salient events of the paper war can be briefly summarized.
When the Braille Monitor was born in 1957 its editor was George Card, who was also the First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind (from 1948) and a veteran field organizer for the movement. Card had previously been the editor of The All-Story Braille Magazine and was accustomed to retaining sole control over the contents of his publication; but with the advent of the Monitor as the official channel for communication of the full range of Federation activities, this was no longer possible.
The center of activity was at the national headquarters, in Berkeley, where the President resided and where the print Monitor was to be published; whereas Card lived in far-off Wisconsin, traveled almost continuously on organizing trips, and was no longer on the cutting edge of policy formation or even of major writing efforts. In these circumstances there was bound to be strain, and it began to show almost from the beginning. In the third issue of the Monitor (September, 1957), Card openly expressed his displeasure at the new division of editorial labor, while recognizing its necessity and taking care to praise the contributions of President tenBroek. The first item on page one of the September issue read as follows:
As many of you know, I was engaged in field work nearly all of the time between mid-February and late June. This, of course, necessitated my turning over my editorial duties to others. The May and June issues contained only a few items which were mine. I had no part in the preparation of the July number. Last month I wrote the account of the New Orleans convention, but the rest of the material was prepared by others. Much of the writing during this four-month period was of the highest excellence and I should have been proud to have been its author. The fact remains, however, that I was not the author and I think you should know this. I have received a number of letters containing undeserved compliments and a few of the other kind. I have only now had the privilege of reading Dr. tenBroek's brilliant and devastating analysis of the AAWB resolution and the American Foundation attack on our Right to Organize bill. If any of you missed this section, for heaven's sake go back and read it right now. It is a superlative bit of writing, and it will make you rejoice if you are a member of an organization which has such a leader and spokesman.
It is my hope that in the future, whenever I am away and others prepare the Braille Monitor, they will use their own bylines.
Again in the December, 1957, issue Editor Card prefaced the contents with an entry entitled Setting the Record Straight. This time he was concerned to identify others who had contributed major articles to the November Monitor (but had not followed his counsel to use their own by-lines). I was absent in the East during the time the November issue was being prepared, wrote Card. The extremely well written articles`Was It Really Passed Unanimously' and the two dealing with the support of the Kennedy bill by the Western Conference of Home Teachers, were by Kenneth Jernigan. The 'Bulletins' were the joint product of the Washington and Berkeley offices. I believe Dr. tenBroek wrote or assembled most of the rest of the material. My only contribution was the 'Journal.'
The next development in this personal/editorial saga came in December of 1958 with a lead article entitled Monitor Editor Resigns NFB Office, carrying the by-line of Jacobus tenBroek. The Federation President announced that George Card had resigned his position as First Vice President due primarily to the stresses of the civil war then raging within the movement. He continued: George's services will not be wholly lost to us as a result of his decision. As reported elsewhere, the Federation will take over publication of the Braille edition of the Braille Monitor. George will now continue his functions as editor of the Braille Monitor and as finance director, and will thus be enabled to carry forward much of his invaluable work and contribution to our common cause as a member of the paid staff of the Federation.
In an accompanying letter of resignation, Card wrote in part: Now that the Monitor has become so large and important, it is demanding more and more of my time. I feel it is a part of my job to read all Braille periodicals published in the English-speaking world and to have all inkprint periodicals in our field read to me, so that I can pass on important matters in the columns of the Monitor. Each month the volume of correspondence with Monitor readers and contributors increases. But he went on to declare that the major reason for his resignation from elective office was the storm and stress of civil war: The ruthless and lacerating attacks made by a small, disgruntled group during the past fifteen months have taken all the joy out of it for me. Watching the organization which I love so much split into warring factions has made me heartsick.
Despite Card's denunciation of the small, disgruntled group of dissidents, and his despair at the Federation's split into warring factions, he was soon himself to join the dissident faction and to declare his own private war upon the President and the administration of the NFB. That story has been told earlier in these pages (Chapter Three) with reference to the civil war; but it is pertinent here to trace the narrower events which led to the replacement of Card as editor of the Braille Monitor and to a new phase (and a new look) in the evolution of the Voice of Federationism.
In September of 1960 the NFB President Jacobus tenBroek responded to a mounting series of hostile actions on the part of Card by announcing his termination as Monitor editor (although tenBroek even then could not bring himself to fire Card outright but merely reduced his workload and placed him on semi-retirement). Thus, wrote the President, The Braille Monitor has been placed under new editorship. We are fortunate that Kenneth Jernigan has consented to undertake this function on a volunteer basis. The September (and possibly the October) issues will again be prepared in the Federation's Berkeley headquarters, but as soon as possible the new editor will take over this responsibility. Therefore all items or material intended for the Monitor should be sent in the future to Mr. Jernigan.
In the subsequent (October) issue of the Monitor, two related events were given prominent attention. The first was the bitterly announced resignation of George Card from what was left of his staff position; and the second was a statement by the new Monitor editor, Kenneth Jernigan, enunciating his own editorial policy and philosophy. That 1960 declaration was to take on unusual significance in light of Jernigan's future role in directing the evolution of the Monitor into the single most influential and widely read periodical in the blindness field. Presented in the form of an Open Letter to Monitor Readers, this was his proclamation of principles:
In assuming the duties of editor I would like to say a few words to all Monitor readers. First, this: My success or failure as editor will largely be determined by you. I know that I need not dwell upon the troubled times in which the Federation finds itself or the difficult circumstances under which I assume this task. I also know that the members of the Federation throughout the country will, as they always have, respond to the situation. I will need your comments and criticisms. I will also need material for publication.
This, too, I would like to say: I shall do the best that I can to report to you factually and fairly events as they occur. This does not mean, of course, that I am, or intend to become, a neutral in the civil war which now besets our organization. I believe in the Federation and the principles for which it stands. I believe that our organization is, and that it always has been, democratic and progressive. I believe that our President is a devoted man and not a thief or a scoundrel.
Since I do believe these things, my editorial policies will inevitably be governed accordingly. To say otherwise would be less than honest. Furthermore, I do not believe that it should be the function of the Monitor to have no views and no policy at all. Rather, I believe the magazine should follow the policies established democratically by the delegates at Federation conventions. Differing viewpoints have a legitimate place in the magazine but not unfounded charges of slander and vilification, which can only serve to weaken our movement. The purpose of the Monitor should be to build the Federation, not to destroy it.
Finally, I would like to say this: Even if an editor tries, it is impossible for him not to have an editorial policy. Consider the Free Press, for instance. It claims to present all points of view and to be open and unbiased. Yet, almost every article it prints is an attack upon the Federation and its leadership. By the very virtue of what he selects to be printed an editor establishes a policy and espouses a cause.
I pledge to the members of the Federation that I will do my best to see that they get a factual and fair account of what is occurring throughout the nation, but I also pledge that I will do everything possible to strengthen and build the Federation through the pages of the Monitor, keeping the members informed of what the minority faction is doing and promoting the policies established by the majority at conventions.
Again I say that I shall need the help of all of you if the task is to be a success.
Almost exactly a score of years after that open letter in the June, 1980, issue of the Monitor Kenneth Jernigan published another Report to the Members in which he found himself reflecting on the twenty-year cycle which had brought him back once more to the editor's chair. He was now working, he said, as a sort of co-editor of the Monitor along with Jim Gashel. The last time at least in an official way that I had anything to do with editing the Monitor (it was also the first time) was from September through December, 1960. We were in the midst of the Federation's civil war, and those were troubled times. After four months of my editorship, the Monitor went out of business. (I hope it was the overall problems of the times and not my editing that did it.)
In fact it was not just the overall problems of the times but the specific problem of the dearth of finances, as Jacobus tenBroek was to put it, that was responsible for the suspension of Monitor publication at the end of 1960. When it came out again nearly four years later with the August, 1964, issue its editor was Dr. tenBroek, then the President Emeritus of the Federation. This is how he described the comeback in that issue:
The revival of the Braille Monitor comes in the nick of time. The last issue was published in December, 1960. The suspension was caused by the dearth of finances which resulted from the internal warfare of the Federation. During the spring of 1961 the American Brotherhood for the Blind received a handsome bequest. The Brotherhood, therefore, was able to take over where the Monitor had left off. In August, 1961, the Brotherhood began the publication of the Blind American, in form and content the replacement of the Monitor. These and other heavy drains on the treasury of the Brotherhood, alas, are now exhausting its reserves. It had already reduced to a quarterly issue and will now suspend altogether. The announcement of [NFB] President Kletzing at the NFB Phoenix convention that the income of the Federation would now permit the revival of the Braille Monitor thus could not have come at a more opportune moment.
The moment was opportune in more than a fiscal sense, tenBroek said: As the Monitor suspended at the peak of dissension within the Federation, so it revives with the restoration of harmony, good feeling, and mutual understanding. Thus the rebirth of the Monitor coincided with the dawn of an era of good feeling in the movement compounded of renewed stability, steady growth, and the vitality of an oncoming second generation. All this was to be reflected in its pages in the years to come. But the Monitor would also prove to be more than a mirror of the movement; it would become as well a catalyst for change, a learning center, and a kind of monthly town meeting for the nationwide community of the organized blind. It would provide a source of comfort and a source of anger; it would alternate philosophy with polemics, education with agitation. In short it would give increased devotion to the commitment implicit in its title of Monitor: one that advises, warns, and cautions.
And it would find a voice an oral dimension to supplement the tactile and visual dimensions of Braille and print. Coincident with the revival of the Monitor in 1964 came the announcement (carried in the October issue) that a tape edition was now available upon request the taping through the generosity of the Kansas City Association of the Blind, and the technology by courtesy of Ways and Means of Augusta, Georgia. Meanwhile, as noted earlier, continuing efforts toward a disc- recorded version (widely preferred because of the availability of Talking Book machines) bore fruit finally with the production of the first recorded edition of the Monitor in July, 1968. Over the next years the recording process was to be progressively improved and upgraded; and in December, 1970, the recorded edition took on a distinctive sound as Larry McKeever began a long career as the Voice of the Monitor. McKeever would continue until 1988, when the NFB began recording the Monitor in its own studios at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. Meanwhile the competitive audio technology of the tape cassette was improving to the point where the Federation could begin producing the Monitor on four-track cassettes (as of January, 1987). By the time of the golden anniversary year of 1990 with the multiple editions in Braille and print, on disc and cassette some 30,000 copies of the Monitor were in circulation every month. Unmistakably, the voice of the movement was heard in the land. And the voice was rising.
It had been a steady, if sometimes difficult, ascent to that high plateau of recognition and influence. After the revival of the Monitor in 1964, there were to be just four years left of the tenBroek editorship. The death of the founder in early 1968 necessitated a replacement at the helm of the journal no less than at the head of the movement. Kenneth Jernigan, who was elected to succeed Dr. tenBroek in the presidency, moved immediately to fill the vacancy at the Monitor, choosing a veteran leader of proven devotion and ability: Perry Sundquist of California. In an Open Letter to Monitor Readers in the May, 1968, issue, the new President praised Sundquist as one of Dr. tenBroek's closest associates and oldest friends [who] has always been among the staunchest and most steadfast members of the organized blind movement. He continued: The Monitor will continue to be assembled and printed in the Berkeley office, and Mrs. tenBroek will handle the details of the operation. During Dr. tenBroek's illness her courage and steadfastness were truly tenBroekian. Over the years Dr. tenBroek had been the principal focus of her life, and toward the end she was constantly at his bedside. Yet she found the time and the strength to carry forward the work of the Berkeley office and impart strength to those around her.
That Monitor editorial team made up of Editor Perry Sundquist, Associate Editor Hazel tenBroek, and Publisher Kenneth Jernigan continued to work together for the next eight years to build the magazine into a journalistic force to be reckoned with. In 1977 the partnership came to an end as both editors retired from their positions (but not from the movement) and the entire editorial operation was shifted from California to the NFB's national headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. The staff change was announced in an Open Letter to Monitor Readers from President Jernigan (January, 1977):
When I became President of the Federation in 1968, two of the key people who formed the team that helped me start my presidency and build for the future were Perry Sundquist and Hazel tenBroek. I asked Perry to serve as editor of the Monitor and Hazel to serve as associate editor, as well as manager of the Berkeley office. Both accepted the call to serve, and both have been essential ingredients in the success of our publication, a success unparalleled in the history of periodicals for the blind.
With this issue Perry and Hazel cease their editorial relationship with the Monitor but not, of course, their work in the movement or their warm relationship with the President. That is a lifetime involvement.
In a second Open Letter this one to Perry Sundquist and Hazel tenBroek President Jernigan further summarized the joint accomplishment of the two editors over the years: I will simply say that with you, Perry, as editor and you, Hazel, as associate editor, the Braille Monitor has been tremendously effective and important in improving the lives of the blind. During your tenure we have more than doubled our circulation, increased public awareness, brought changes to the agencies, and stimulated the blind to a greater sense of determination and self-realization than ever before in history. Not bad for eight years. He went on to quote from earlier correspondence with Sundquist in which their professional relationship had come under discussion. In one of those letters the President had written:
This brings me to the question of the relationship of the three of us. As I see it, your function is that of editor that is, working within the policy laid down by the publisher; to write articles; select and reject material; and plan the overall pattern of publication for the months ahead. Your initiation of the series Meet Our State President and Our State Affiliate is a good and constructive example of this. You receive articles, correspond with members and affiliates about the Monitor, and stimulate a flow of information. As I see it, my role corresponds to the one ordinarily assumed by the publisher of a newspaper or magazine that is, I lay down the policy as to the kind of editorial positions we will take. Carrying out this function, I may decide, for instance, that we want to exclude a given type of article or that we want to emphasize a given situation to try to achieve an organizational purpose. From the beginning of time, publishers have also assumed the prerogative (much to the annoyance of editors) of vetoing a given article which they don't like often on pure whim if they feel like it. Also, publishers have, since the memory of man, insisted on inserting articles which they have taken a fancy to or which they themselves have written even if such articles have been possessed of no literary merit at all and have upset the plans and the ulcers of the editor. In this respect I call on you to read the history of the stormy relationship existing between Joseph Pulitzer and a whole series of saintly souls. Editor and publisher should serve as a balance wheel to each other. Each must try (as gently as possible) to keep the other from going off the deep end, from damaging the publication with the more obvious madnesses, and from settling into a dull routine.
Having said all this, let me now come back to the specifics of the articles. I believe that you, Hazel, and I make a good team. The three of us balance each other quite well. If Hazel had her way (and she usually does not get it), the Monitor would be a learned tome, full of scholarship and dust, disturbed by nobody. If you had your way (and you sometimes get it), the magazine would be a stringing together of popularized human interest stories with a good sprinkling of generalized welfare articles, read by some but not getting across the substantial organizational message. If I followed my natural bent (and I very often don't), I would make the magazine a solid stream of preachments exhorting people to get in and work in the organization. It would appeal to the hard core and convert some but lose the value of the audiences that both you and Hazel would tend to stimulate.
All of these approaches have their problems, but when you put them together, we have a darned good magazine the best one I have seen in the field of work with the blind. The fact of the success of our editorial policy and teamwork is to be found in the great organizational upsurge which we are experiencing and in the growing mailing list of the Monitor. I think there is little doubt that our magazine has more influence than any other periodical in the field today and that the enthusiasm for it is continuing to grow.
In another Open Letter addressed to Monitor readers, Jernigan announced the appointment of a new editor: He is Don McConnell, who has been associated for many years with the Federation and the Monitor. He learned his Federationism under Hazel's tutelage in the Berkeley Office. To Editor McConnell we say: `The task you undertake is formidable. You are now editor of the most influential publication in the field of work with the blind, but we have confidence that you will bring the Monitor to new heights of excellence. Be aggressive; be sensitive; be resourceful; and never hesitate to tell the truth, regardless of what the cost may seem to be. The rest will follow.'
Two and a half years later, President Jernigan found himself reluctantly addressing another Open Letter to Monitor readers in order to announce the resignation of Editor McConnell. Recalling their years of association, Jernigan wrote: It was the beginning of a very successful series of Monitor editions. It was also the beginning of a very productive and harmonious relationship.Mr. McConnell is a good writer; he has editorial capability and perspective; and he is a knowledgeable and dedicated member of the movement. His participation in the movement will, of course, continue, but it will be difficult to find his equal as an editor. Jernigan went on to note that, pending the employment of a new editor, Jim Gashel and I will pool our efforts to produce the Monitor. I hope this will be a very brief interlude, for the editing of the Monitor is a full time and demanding job.
Don McConnell, the retiring editor, penned his own farewell in the form of an Open Letter to Federationists which was published in the next issue of the Monitor (July-August, 1979). Observing that his years at the national headquarters were the two most eventful and dramatic years of my life as well as the most rewarding, McConnell presented a thoughtful recollection of the Federation, its members, and its leaders which sought to define and illustrate certain salient characteristics of the movement in its active phase:
by Donald McConnell
As I reflect on my years working for the NFB, a number of characteristics of the organization strike me. The Federation has many faces. If you visit local chapters, it can appear to be an organization of bake sales and committee reports. During the social times at conventions, it is a huge and friendly family. But when the large core of active Federation leaders go into action, the striking feature of the NFB is its cohesiveness and the ability of Federationists to act as a team. Two examples in particular come to mind: the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals and the FAA demonstration last July. During the ill-starred White House Conference, a group of about three dozen Federationists completely out-maneuvered the Conference staff expensive consultants and all and organized a coalition of handicapped consumers that all but took over the Conference. At last July's convention, with fewer than 48 hours' notice, 1,000 Federationists were on the street in front of the Federal Aviation Administration. Even though the day between the decision to demonstrate and the demonstration itself was a national holiday, the pickets carried printed picket signs and even had box lunches on the buses coming over from Baltimore. And we were met in Washington by a massive turnout of the Washington press corps.
After both of these occasions, we were accused of having planned our action weeks in advance. The White House Conference staff told the press that it was obvious we had come to Washington prepared to disrupt the Conference, and they implied we had acted in bad faith. The same complaint came from the FAA. In neither case was it true. They just couldn't believe an organization (and one of blind people at that) could act with such unity and effectiveness.
I have one other reflection on my experience with the Federation, and it concerns a quality of our activity that explains all the rest. It has to do with the kind of people who are in the movement. There are plenty of blind persons who for one reason or another choose not to be part of the Federation. But it is my experience that the best blind people do belong. People call the NFB just one more special interest group, but there is an important difference. Despite the tangible gains we have made for the blind the liberalization of Social Security rules, for example the people who benefit are in general not those who put themselves on the line. The blind persons who institute civil rights lawsuits know in advance that whatever the outcome, they will personally bear enormous burdens with little in the way of reward. But they know that the legal principles they establish will help all those who come after. The blind who jeopardize their jobs by demonstrating in front of a repressive lighthouse are in general not the lighthouse employees who will benefit from the action. Many of the most active Federationists have already made it; they could isolate themselves and leave their fellow blind to do the best they can. But they don't do this. Federationists realize that, however it may look, they did not make it on their own; and they acknowledge the responsibility this puts on them. This widespread acknowledgment of responsibility and the obligation to act on it no matter what the personal consequences makes the National Federation of the Blind almost unique in the world. It is what, for me, has made it an honor and a privilege to have been given a chance to have a part in it. Without question the Federation has changed my life and in a way that I will always be grateful for.
Kenneth Jernigan, in his 1979 letter to Monitor readers disclosing McConnell's resignation, expressed the hope that his own editorial involvement with the magazine would be a very brief interlude. That was to turn out to be one of Jernigan's less accurate anticipations; more than a decade later he would still be occupying the editor's chair. In the first year after his assumption of the editorship, Jernigan wrote in a Monitor report that: I am working with Jim Gashel these days as a sort of co-editor of the Monitor. It's fun, but it crowds a busy schedule even further. He recalled that following his previous tenure as editor the Monitor had gone out of business: Anyway we didn't start publication again until 1964. This time I have already been at it for more than four months, and there seems to be no indication that we are about to close shop; so I guess that shows progress.
The progress of the Monitor then and in the decade to follow was much greater than that diffident remark suggested; and the progress came fast. In his 1983 Presidential Report to the Kansas City convention, Jernigan could say: We have expanded the distribution of our magazine, the Braille Monitor. It now goes to every congressional office and to every agency doing work with the blind in the country. It is beyond question the most influential publication in the field today.
To be sure, not every reader of the Monitor either inside or outside the movement approved of the way in which the magazine was being run. One fairly new reader (and NFB member) wrote a sternly critical letter to the editor protesting nearly everything he had read in the Monitor over the five months he had known of it. Perhaps to his surprise, the letter received a long and thoughtful reply from Co-editor Kenneth Jernigan. Following is that correspondence as published in the December, 1983, Monitor:
October 1, 1983
To The Editor of the Braille Monitor:
I am writing this letter after five months of reading the Monitor in Braille. I wish to comment on the content and the format of the magazine. This letter is not addressed to a specific person, because nowhere in the Monitor does it say who the Editor is.
A major problem in producing materials in Braille is the cost. Therefore, it is very disturbing to see how much space is wasted in the Monitor. Three of the first six pages of Part I of the August-September issue are blank. Often between articles, an entire page is wasted before the next article begins. I hope this will be corrected.
Sifting through the contents of the Monitor makes it apparent that NFB is dealing with important items and doing good work. However, these issues are so buried in NFB rhetoric and biased reporting as to be lost to the reader. Why is it not possible to label editorials as editorials, and separate them from facts and news. Are the people in the National Office viewing the average NFB member as not capable of taking the facts and determining who is right without being led by the nose? This goes against what NFB supposedly stands for. The Monitor is read by people in the blindness field who could become friends of the Federation. Some do not because articles in the Monitor supposedly reporting on important issues and accomplishments of the Federation, are headed with exceedingly biased headlines, and filled with hateful comments. This hurts the cause of the blind persons in the Federation and those who are potential members.
The Monitor is not well organized, in contrast to almost every other magazine I have read. Articles appear in random order with no relationship to one another. In other magazines there are sections in which articles on similar topics or of the same degree of importance are grouped together. Both in the Monitor Miniatures (and in the Monitor in general) articles just appear one after another with no rhyme or reason. This makes it difficult to read.
I hope you will give my comments serious consideration. They come from someone who is a Federation member and supports what the Federation wants. But I see a lot in the Monitor that is confusing, disorganized, and biased. I would like this to change.
October 24, 1983
I have your letter of October 1, 1983, and I thank you for it. The reason that certain parts of pages are left blank in the Braille Edition of the Monitor is so that the metal plates may be used to make reprints of articles. The American Printing House for the Blind does the formatting, not the people in the National Office of the Federation. The Printing House also Brailles a great many other magazines. Perhaps they could do it more judiciously, but in the circumstances I doubt it.
Let me now turn to your comments about the tone and substance of the Monitor. I do not agree with you that the reporting is biased, but my reasons for feeling that way probably spring from the same source as your reasons for feeling that bias exists. In other words I agree (and, of course, I would since I do much of the writing) with what the Monitor says. When you find a particular article with which you disagree (especially if the disagreement is strong) you are likely to feel that the article is based on prejudice.
You suggest that editorials should be labeled as such and that news should be reported without comment. If you will reconsider the matter, you may conclude that our practice is more honest than that which many publications claim to follow. It is not possible to publish so-called facts without expressing opinion and editorializing. By the very virtue of what you select to print, you create a pattern, editorialize, and exercise censorship.
Once you select the subject, you further editorialize by what facts you print and what you leave out. You editorialize by where you place material in the article and even by the subordination of sentences. Finally, you editorialize by your choice of words: He stated he alleged he declared he insisted he protested he averred etc. All of these verbs might be used interchangeably to express the same action; but oh what a difference in impression. In short, what editorializing! Yet, if you are to write the article at all you must use one or another of these verbs or something else equally slanted. And this does not even take into account the adjectives and adverbs, which abound and proliferate. Read the average newspaper story or magazine article, and see whether what I am telling you is the truth.
The Monitor uses straight language, but I believe that it scrupulously tells the truth. When we make a mistake (as everybody sometimes does), we do not wait for somebody to insist that we print a retraction. We do it immediately and ungrudgingly. Furthermore, we print the retraction as prominently and as fully as the original erroneous statement. I can show you evidence from the pages of the Monitor to prove it.
This in no sense takes away from the fact that our language is sometimes quite blunt. We have, for instance, said in a number of cases that this or that individual has been guilty of stealing money intended for the blind. Should we have pussyfooted around and said that the individual misappropriated, borrowed, or purloined the money? I think not. In the instances I have in mind the individuals were convicted by courts of law and sent to the penitentiary. I think we would have been editorializing (and in a very dishonest and destructive manner) if we had used any other words than the ones we chose.
To the best of my knowledge no other publication in our field reported these incidents at all. Yet, they knew about them. I have proof that they did. By neglecting to report these stories did these magazines not editorialize? Yes, they did but they will not be accused of it. They will be regarded as very genteel. I have another word for their conduct, and it is probably one that you would regard as editorializing.
The fact that we report bluntly and truthfully and that we do not avoid controversial topics does not mean, as you suggest, that we demonstrate hate (a word, by the way, which itself carries editorial connotations). We do not hate the people who exploit the blind, but we certainly do deplore their actions; and we have every intention of exposing such actions and such people for what they are. Let those who like it like it, and let those who dislike it dislike it.
In my opinion the National Federation of the Blind has done more to improve the lives of blind people than any other single entity or force which has existed during the twentieth century, and I think that one of the principal reasons is our willingness (no, our insistence) that the truth be told and things be called what they are regardless of controversy or bitter personal attacks against us or attempts to silence us by trying to destroy our organization. Let us not confuse lack of courage with morality, or blunt truth-telling with hate. I remind you of the words of George Bernard Shaw: I am firm; you are stubborn; he is pigheaded.
Let me now leave the subject of editorializing and deal with some of the other points you raise. First I would like to comment on the matter of whether Federationists can be led around by the nose. It cannot be done, whether from inside or outside, whether by friend or foe. The agencies cannot do it; the public cannot do it; you, by the comments in your letter, cannot do it; and, for that matter, I cannot do it. The Federation members are a very sophisticated population, more so than any other group concerned with blindness. They cannot be flim flammed or bamboozled and they will not be stampeded. They can distinguish rhetoric from opinion and opinion from fact, and they are not so immature or lacking in self-assurance that they are likely to be disturbed by somebody else's view concerning their method of locomotion.
You say that you are a Federationist and that you have been reading the Monitor for five months. This would indicate (and it is clear from the tone of your comments that such is the case) that you have not yet attended one of our National Conventions. Several thousand of us come together for a week of discussion and decision making, and we speak our minds and have our say. The convention is the supreme authority of the organization. It makes the policies, and the elected leaders follow those policies. Otherwise, they will stop being the elected leaders, and somebody else will replace them.
One of the most persistent myths which our agency opponents continually try to perpetuate is that the elected leaders of the Federation (and particularly I as President) do not truly speak for the membership and do not accurately reflect their desires and feelings. Not only is this total nonsense but it is also wishful thinking. Let those who doubt it come to the convention and put it to the test. No one steamrollers Federationists into going where they do not wish to go, and they know precisely and exactly what their goals are and how they intend to achieve them.
As an example, the Monitor is edited just the way the overwhelming majority of Federationists want it edited. If it were not, there would be changes. The articles are not scattered through the magazines without, as you put it, rhyme or reason and in random order. There are patterns and purposes. The fact that an individual has not yet perceived or understood those patterns and purposes does not mean that they do not exist.
You say that no one is listed as Editor of the Monitor. If you had been in the Federation longer, you would have more background on this point. In 1979 the person who was editing the Monitor resigned, and it was announced that James Gashel and I (along with help from a few others) would do the editing until and unless we found someone else to do it. That is still the arrangement; although, it must be said that I have come to do more and more of the work as the months have gone by to the point that, if you have any quarrels with how the magazine is edited, the responsibility is probably mine. I guess I should go on to say that I rather enjoy the job and will probably keep doing it (always keeping in mind what I said about pleasing the majority of the membership or getting kicked out). In the meantime I keep doing the work and finding it fun. Let me deal with one final point. You say that the Monitor is read by people in the blindness field who could become friends of the Federation and that they do not because of the way the magazine is written. Perhaps this gets at the very heart of what we are discussing. If we were to write the Monitor in such a way as to please those people in the blindness field about whom you are talking, most of us would feel the Federation was of little further value. Our movement was not established simply to be one more bland pretense, one more means of living easy and avoiding stepping on toes, one more preacher of pious platitudes. Regardless of the consequences, we have remained true to our purpose, and this is why we are the strongest force in the affairs of the blind today. It is no mere slogan or catch phrase when we say: We know who we are, and we will never go back.
Very truly yours, Kenneth Jernigan, President National Federation of the Blind
P. S. How many other organizations or groups in this field do you know that would be willing to print (unedited, unaltered, and without deletion) such a letter from one of their members? Think about it. It will tell you a lot.
From its maiden issue in the late fifties, the Braille Monitor was unapologetically an activist publication, reflecting the urgent social purposes of the movement it served. To the best of their abilities its early editors and writers reported on the hot spots and trouble spots in the field of work with the blind; but of necessity their range was limited and their coverage narrow. For one thing, funds were scarce in those days; for another, the Monitor was a different kind of animal, journalistically, and its role and character were not yet clear. There were few precedents for what the National Federation of the Blind was doing in the world; and there were fewer still for what the Monitor was seeking to do in its pages. It sought, among other things, to combine the intimacy of a community newsletter with the broad sweep of a national news magazine. It sought also, on one hand, to step back from the fray and reflect philosophically on its meaning, while on the other hand taking the plunge and joining the fight without equivocation. In time these differing purposes would come to be accommodated as complementary rather than contradictory elements in a novel editorial pattern: what might be termed a participative journalism of engagement, a town meeting on the page. At that future time the Braille Monitor would come fully of age.
The stages of journalistic evolution through which the Monitor would pass before it reached maturity can be traced in the files of bound volumes stretching from the fifties through the eighties. In the earliest issues the contents were taken up almost exclusively with organizational matters as witness the table of contents for the edition of September, 1957, which contained a total of seventeen items in a grand total of nineteen pages (small even for that period). The titles, largely self-explanatory, were listed as follows: Setting the Record Straight Current Developments Postal Inquiry Dropped The Helpless Blind Misconceptions Bill Taylor Gets the Axe NFB Pins A Highly Significant Clarification NFB Tape Program Begins Illinois' Loss-Nevada's Gain A Resolution Financial Support to This Magazine A Great Loss Legislative Success in Illinois Oregon Legislative Report State Conventions Here and There.
Apart from the modest size of that Monitor issue, it displayed a considerable scope and variety of subject matter, ranging from the political to the personal. The contents demonstrated the range of the Federation's activities, but the major emphasis was on legislative programs and internal matters. Nearly all of the items were brief notices of one or two paragraphs, a format which may have reflected both financial stringency and the exclusively Braille publication of that opening season. Within months the print edition was to make its appearance, and the role of President tenBroek and the Berkeley office to take on greater significance.
The nature of that significance was not to be fully appreciated until the sixties when tenBroek became the primary editor and steadily imposed his own personality and style, as well as his philosophy, upon the Monitor. By 1967, a full decade after its inauguration and the final year of tenBroek's career, the NFB's monthly magazine was thoroughly identified with its editor and guiding spirit. Here is the table of contents for a typical issue during that year:
Convention Roundup London Blind Workers' Demonstrations End In Victory
IFB Executive Committee Meeting
NFB Testifies In Congressional Hearings
by John Nagle
Tom Joe Goes To Pennsylvania
National Federation of the Blind Student Division News
by Ramona Willoughby
Minnesota Scores Gains
Agencies For The Blind And Tuning
by Stanley Oliver
End Of Social Dislocation Of Leprosy Patients
by O. W. Hasselbled, M.D.
Aloha To Hawaii
by Anthony Mannino
The WCWB Executive Meeting
Blind Student Stereotype Tested
Are We Equal To The Challenge?
by Jacobus tenBroek
The Blind In Argentina
by Hugo Garcia Garcilazo
The Collecting Box In The Welfare State
by Douglas Houghton
NFB Testifies On Rehabilitation Amendment Of 1967 Statement
by John Nagle
What stands out from that 1967 table of contents, as contrasted with the titles of a decade earlier, is the greater range of topics (especially in geographical terms) and the larger size of the edition 52 pages compared with 19 in the 1957 issue. Short items still appear, but the articles have become substantial even apart from Dr. tenBroek's memorable last banquet address at the Los Angeles convention: Are We Equal to the Challenge? There is a distinctive international flavor to the contents (four articles); the Federation's testimony before Congress is reported in two episodes by the Chief of the Washington Office, John Nagle; the Los Angeles convention is covered in both breadth and depth; and there is a noteworthy report of elections in the year-old NFB Student Division, written by a student leader named Ramona Willoughby (who was elected secretary alongside a second vice president named Chuck Walhof, whom she was later to marry).
One decade later, in 1977, successions were occurring both in the presidency of the NFB and in the editorship of the Monitor but the face of the magazine remained unruffled and its contents displayed only continuity and progress. An attentive reader might, however, have noted a new degree of emphasis devoted to the concerns of civil rights. In a typical issue of that year (July, 1977), article after article virtually without exception dealt with an array of insults and injuries inflicted upon blind persons in their professional and personal lives, and with the measured responses to all of them undertaken by the National Federation of the Blind. This is how they appeared in the table of contents:
The NFB Goes To Court To Defend Blind Vendors: The Jessie Nash Case
Civil Rights For The Handicapped: Potentials And Perils For The Blind
by James Gashel
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Another Invitation From NAC
New Hope For Justice In The Bohrer Case
by Ramona Walhof
AFL-CIO Launches Sheltered Shop Union-Organizing Campaign, While The AFB-NAC-ACB
Combine Argues Equality Can Only Hurt BlindPeople
by James Omvig
Progress In The Classroom: Overcoming Discrimination In The Teaching Profession
Gurmankin Decision Upheld By U.S. Court Of Appeals
O NAC, Where Is Thy Sting?
Recipe Of The Month
by Josephine Araldo
With the exception of the last two items in the contents standard entries both the entire table consisted of current issues immediately affecting the lives and livelihoods of blind Americans: in their business enterprises (the Jessie Nash case); in the classroom (the Gurmankin case); in the conduct of child care (the Bohrer case); in the sheltered shops (as reported by James Omvig); in the legislature (as reported by James Gashel), and in the continuing campaign against the agency gadfly known as NAC (two articles). This concentration upon civil rights issues affecting the blind was a graphic indication of changing times and oncoming generations in the organized blind movement of the shift away from traditional problems of subsistence and survival to the concerns of dignity and equality, of opportunity and access, of the rights and immunities of citizens. The Monitor, like a social seismograph, registered the tremors emanating from these sources of disturbance; it not only registered but documented them, providing a context and explanatory framework, building a record and preparing a brief. That was what it meant, in 1977, to be a monitor.
During the decade of the seventies, with the exception of a single year (mid-1977 to mid-1978), Kenneth Jernigan was the President of the Federation. But he was not the editor of the Monitor until 1978. Unquestionably his impact, as the leader of the movement, had been felt in the magazine during the seventies; but it was in the following decade that he moved into the foreground and placed the stamp of his personal style and character, directly and unmistakably, upon the Monitor.
The signature of the Jernigan style was to be displayed most prominently in two distinctive literary forms: those of investigative reporting and of the personal essay. Neither appeared for the first time in the eighties; the former had been foreshadowed by accounts of discrimination and repression in the days of the fight to organize, and the latter was anticipated by editorial jottings and ruminations in the earliest issues of the magazine. It remained for Jernigan as editor to inaugurate a policy of investigative journalism and for Jernigan as editorialist to exercise a penchant for the familiar essay.
Both of these journalistic forms, the expressive and the expository, were represented in a typical Monitor issue of 1987 a decade after the one last examined above. Once again the table of contents is worthy of reproduction for its evidence of the range of concerns then prevalent in the journal and the movement.
Of Braille And Memories And The Matilda Ziegler
by Kenneth Jernigan
United Airlines Continues To Harass Blind People
Congressional Momentum In The Airline Controversy Increases
The Future Of A Blind Guy
by Gary Wunder
Building My Piano Business
by Al Sanchez
Payoff Speaks Nancy Squeaks
by Kenneth Jernigan
The Three Barretts Growing In The Federation
by Ramona Walhof
Jim Moynihan Responds To Professor Eames And Ms. Gardner
Blind Of Milwaukee Produce Television Program
David Stayer Statement Of Principle
Low Vision As An Alternative Technique
by Richard Mettler
Blood, Signatures, And Safety
by Marc Maurer
On The Nature Of Budgets, Controversy, And Censorship
Another Barrier Falls: Victory In IRS Employment
The lead article in this richly packed and diversified issue Of Braille and Memories and the Matilda Ziegler was vintage Jernigan in his essayist mode. (The complete text of the essay is reprinted in Chapter Seven of this volume.) The next two articles were illustrative of the editor, and the Federation, in the attack mode; they presented two contributions in a long-sustained campaign to secure the rights of blind airline passengers. The following two entries, by Gary Wunder and Al Sanchez respectively, were personal stories in what used to be called the human interest vein. The more extended article, Payoff Speaks Nancy Squeaks, by Kenneth Jernigan, exemplified the method of investigative reporting and editorial exposure which was coming more and more to characterize the journalism of the Braille Monitor in the decade of the eighties. In this instance the topic was a politically inspired appointment to the directorship of the Iowa Commission for the Blind which had become unraveled through the hard-hitting media coverage of the Braille Monitor and TV's Sixty Minutes, among others. Something of the flavor of the Jernigan article may be gleaned from its opening paragraphs:
In the recent sorry history of the Iowa Commission for the Blind no episode has been more grubby than the story of Nancy Norman. When John Taylor was fired as director in 1982, the Governor's office and the Commission board made a great to-do about the fact that they were instituting a nationwide search to get the best possible candidate. After much fanfare and window dressing an unknown named Nancy Norman was given the nod. This was done despite the fact that there were qualified applicants and that Ms. Norman had no experience at all in the field of work with the blind.
As the full scenario began to be revealed, the story was even worse than it had first appeared. Ms. Norman's husband was the law partner of the man who was then chairman of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Moreover, her husband was also a heavy contributor to the war chest of Iowa's current Governor, who was at that time a candidate and running hard. So the much ballyhooed search was simply a disgusting charade, and the appointment was nothing more than a political payoff and (in view of the law partnership) a sort of secondhand nepotism. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that the results were a failure.
Each of the remaining articles in this representative 1987 issue of the Monitor contributed to the overall balance of the contents. Ramona Walhof (nee Willoughby) presented the real-life domestic drama of a young Federation couple, Pat and Trudy Barrett, and their successful struggle to adopt a child: thus, The Three Barretts Growing in the Federation. Indirectly that story was also about Ramona Walhof and her capacities as a leader and friend; but this sub-theme had to be read between the lines. Another very personal, and inspirational, article touching on the deeper meanings of Federationism in the lives of many members was A Statement of Principle, by David Stayer (well-remembered by convention-goers for his ringing tenor delivery of the invocation in song). A definite shift in perspective from the personal to the professional was provided by a controversial but authoritative article on Low Vision as an Alternative Technique, by Richard Mettler. Next, as if to assure an even greater stretch in the Monitor's coverage, there was a lurid-sounding entry carrying the by-line of NFB President Marc Maurer Blood, Signatures, and Safety which turned out to be an account of determined efforts by Federationists in Minnesota, led by the redoubtable Judy Sanders, to participate in a blood plasma project despite the prejudice of program professionals. The NFB's President also reappeared in the contents with a patented Maurer article dealing with Federation involvement in litigation concerned with the rights of blind persons in this case, the right to sue under terms of the 1973 Amendments to the Vocational Rehabilitation Act. Finally, the June-July issue of the Monitor rounded out its coverage with an astute set of guidelines, written by Patti Gregory of the NFB of Illinois, for blind job seekers facing the specter of an employment interview. There was truly something for everyone in that edition of the magazine; it fulfilled, with room to spare, the requirements laid down for a proper monitor to advise, to caution, and to warn. It also found time, more than once in those seventy pages, to inspire as well.
Toward the end of the decade the emphasis upon investigative reporting, introduced by Editor Jernigan, became more prominent and ambitious in its reach. Particularly instrumental in the implementation of this activist journalism was Barbara Pierce, whose appointment as Associate Editor was announced by Jernigan in the December 1988, Monitor. His introduction was accompanied by these remarks:
I have been looking for a long time (ten years, to be precise) for an associate editor and I am pleased to tell you that I have now found her. Beginning with this issue, Barbara Pierce, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio and long-time leader at the national level, joins the Monitor staff.
Of course, Barbara is no stranger to Federationists or readers of this publication. She directs our national public relations campaign, participates prominently in National Conventions, and is sometimes seen at NAC demonstrations. She wrote the Monitor convention articles for the 1987 and 1988 National Conventions and is a frequent contributor to these pages. I believe she will do an excellent job as associate editor. I suppose I don't need to say that, for if I hadn't believed it, I wouldn't have asked her to serve.
So what will she do in her new position? She will read state and division newsletters to glean items for publication. She will do research on assigned topics for articles. She will think up topics on her own and do original writing. And she will serve as a sounding board, a copy girl, a workhorse, and an ambulatory and auditory adjunct for the Editor. It would now appear that she will spend something like every other week in Baltimore and the remainder of her time working at home. A big order? Yes, but that's how we are.
The increased accent on investigative journalism in the Monitor found full and formidable expression early in 1989 with the first of what was to be a series of powerful articles probing and exposing abusive, shabby, and criminal practices in various institutions bearing the NAC seal of approval most notably and shockingly in the schools for the deaf and blind of Florida and of Alabama. In the March, 1989, issue of the Monitor, readers were confronted with an astonishing litany of crimes, misdemeanors, and shoddy practices at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. Here is what they read:
The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually
Handicapped (NAC) prides itself on its assertion that the public can count on
the NAC seal of approval as an indication of the excellence of the agency displaying
it. Twice in recent years the National Federation of the Blind has had occasion
to warn Floridians that the NAC seal, far from being a hallmark of quality,
is more often an indication that the institution in question is not serving
its constituents well. In the last year the citizens of the state have learned
with tragic clarity what we meant.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) enrolls 530 students from as young as four years of age to twenty-one. Roughly 300 are students in the department for the deaf; almost 100 are enrolled in the department for the blind; and the remaining 128 are either deaf-multihandicapped or blind-multihandicapped.
The number of the multihandicapped was 129 until October 13, 1988, when Jennifer
Driggers, age nine, was scalded to death in the shower room at Vaill Hall, the
residence of 39 multihandicapped children.
On April 26, 1988, a twenty-two-year-old residence supervisor and Boy Scout leader was fired and arrested for sexually assaulting seventeen deaf boys. He is currently standing trial on twenty-four counts of sexual abuse. Four other male staff members (including the father of the man currently standing trial) have been prosecuted for criminal offenses against students of both sexes. One of these four was a teacher in the department for the blind, and his offenses were against blind girls enrolled at the School as students.
Tragedy and abuse have been a way of life at FSDB for several years. In September of 1982, a fourteen-year-old student, Christi Eddleman, fell from her infirmary bed and suffocated in the plastic trash basket liner beneath the bed. She died of complications several months later. About two years ago a blind student, James Thomas, was fatally injured while wrestling with a friend. In addition, at least nine suicide attempts have been made by students at the school during the past year, and abuse of children by other students and staff is widespread.
How could all this have happened in a school with an annual budget of eighteen and a half million dollars and accreditation in good standing for its department for the blind from NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped)? Is it that the staff members are irresponsible and evil? Is it that the parents are heartless and uncaring? Is it that NAC was too loose with its accreditation and lulled the public and officials of state government with its seal of good standing and its assurance that the school was providing quality services?
With respect to this question, there can be no doubt, for the sex offenses committed by the teacher in the department for the blind occurred almost a year ago and received publicity in the press. There was a court action with all of the trappings, but the NAC accreditation was not withdrawn. At the time of this writing (January, 1989) NAC accreditation has still not been withdrawn. Only after (as detailed later in this article) the Associate Editor of the Monitor called and asked probing questions did NAC indicate that it might consider possibly perhaps taking some sort of undefined action. The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (a school riddled with student deaths, suicide attempts, and widespread sex abuse of students by staff) is accredited with NAC's stamp of approval, and that accreditation and approval still continue. Children die; children are subjected to nightmarish unbelievable abuse; yet, NAC accreditation is not withdrawn. If the defense by NAC is that it was unaware of the situation, that is almost as damning as if it had known and failed to act. If the claim is that NAC knew but was powerless, that is equally damning. If NAC (like Pontius Pilate) should try to wash its hands of guilt by saying that the offenses have occurred in the department for the deaf and not in the department for the blind and that, therefore, NAC has no responsibility, that is perhaps most damning of all. Can one department of an institution be pure while the other departments in the overall structure are corrupt? Can a piece of an apple be sound and the rest of it rotten? And what about the sex abuse in the department for the blind?
As we have probed into this house of horrors, we have repeatedly been told of a feeling of despair on the part of the students, a fear to speak out. The revelations are enough to make one weep with outrage, frustration, and sorrow.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind was founded a little over a hundred years ago, and until 1979 it educated students in either the department for the deaf or the department for the blind. That year the school accepted its first multihandicapped students, and as a result (or, at least, this is the claimed reason), its budget has increased by about thirty-two percent each year since. The 1980 cost for educating each student at the School was reported as $10,944. The cost in 1989 will be $34,943. Yet, each year since 1983 the school has gone to the legislature, warning of dire consequences if it did not receive even larger appropriations than it was given. Despite these predictions of doom, the school (at least, so far as we can determine) has never had to refuse a child because of overcrowding.
When asked, an FSDB official described the institution as being like a private boarding school. Yet, the funding comes from the legislature. A seven-member board of trustees runs the school and answers to the Governor's Cabinet, which is also the State Board of Education. Although the Commissioner of Education is one of the Governor's Cabinet (and is, therefore, a member of the State Board of Education), this is the only connection between the School and the Department of Education (DOE), which has no direct jurisdiction over the School. The School has consistently argued that provisions of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, do not apply to it.
Both blind and deaf children can qualify for admission to the School only by meeting very specific medical criteria. Multihandicapped youngsters, on the other hand, are designated as such by parents and FSDB officials and then enrolled. If the staff cannot immediately determine whether a child meets the institution's criteria, the practice has been to enroll him or her for (depending on which official you believe) either thirty or ninety days while conducting an exhaustive evaluation. It is not surprising that the natural inertia of the situation results in the School's deciding to keep students who are already enrolled regardless of the test results. Whether or not the local school district believes that it is able to educate the child, the parent can choose to have a multihandicapped youngster placed at FSDB if the school agrees.
Those close to the School report that since the passage of P.L. 94-142 and the resulting mainstreaming of many handicapped children, the student body (even in the Departments for the Blind and the Deaf) has changed. For example, about eighty percent of the youngsters currently enrolled in the department for the blind receive counseling of some kind. Relatively few students graduating from the School go on to college.
But the 128 children designated as multihandicapped are not, for the most part, profoundly disabled. Most are either blind or deaf and, in addition, exhibit a behavioral or emotional disorder. Some are mentally retarded, but the retardation is usually mild. It is clear from the catastrophic problems FSDB has had in the past several years that supervising the students outside of school hours presents staff with serious difficulties. Roughly 80% of the youngsters' time is spent in their dormitories. We were told that the position of live-in house parent was eliminated shortly after William T. Dawson became president of the institution in the early 1980's. Differing reasons have been given for this action. Some have said that the live-ins wanted to be moved on the campus not for the good of the students but for their own convenience, but others have said that there seemed to be concerns about abuses by staff if they spent long periods of time with the children and that this is why the position of live-in house parent was discontinued. Be this as it may, FSDB has paid a steep price for its decision. The current practice is to have three eight-hour shifts of residential supervisors, and the youngsters have no opportunity to form strong relationships with house parents since every shift brings new supervisors into the dormitory. There are also many more staff members to hire, train, and supervise. According to an official state report, school administration and staff supervision costs have grown until thirty-three percent of salaries are paid to administrators, and twenty-seven percent of all School personnel have no day-to-day contact with children. Whether as a result of the staff problems or for other reasons, dismaying things have (according to the official report) happened in the dormitories. Deaf-blind students have sometimes spent as much as seven hours without a staff member nearby who could communicate with them. Children have been left for shockingly extended periods of time (up to ten days) in seclusion, and even though the staff-to-student ratio is one to six, children frequently abuse one another without intervention or sometimes even without staff recognition (until later) that injury has taken place.
The residential component of the School's program is not integrated with the two educational departments. So, for example, the principal of the department for the blind has (except tenuously) no involvement with the students in his residential school except when they are engaged in academic pursuits. When we interviewed Dennis Hartenstine (NAC's executive director), he said that NAC could not comment on any part of the School's program which it did not accredit. Presumably, therefore, if dormitory life is not considered part of the department for the blind, NAC (as the accrediting body for the department for the blind) might take the position that it is not involved in what goes on in the dormitory. One can reasonably infer from the comments Hartenstine made in our interview with him that this is the line of defense NAC will use if confronted with its failings in Florida. Not many people would understand or give credence to such hair-splitting distinctions. Most who have considered it at all have undoubtedly assumed that the dormitory arrangements for blind children have been evaluated and accredited along with the academic program in the department for the blind.
Jennifer Driggers was nine years old at the time of her death last October. She was deaf, had some vision problems, and had an IQ of about thirty-five. She functioned at a mental age of between two and three years. She seems also to have had difficulty getting along with other children and staff. She frequently exhibited aggressive behavior although no other student seems to have been injured by her punching, pinching, and hair-pulling.
Jennifer arrived at the school five years ago and caused problems there throughout her short life. In November of 1987 the members of the School staff who worked with her recommended that she be transferred to another facility. Her disabilities, they had concluded, were too profound for FSDB to manage effectively. The administration did not sign this recommendation. In fact, record-keeping procedures at FSDB are so faulty that senior members of the administration apparently did not even know of the recommendation. At least President Dawson is reported to have seemed genuinely shocked when he learned of this assessment at the hearings after Jennifer's death.
Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind officials have been concerned because members of the press have painted their institution in lurid colors. They urged the Braille Monitor to be fair and even-handed in its treatment of the story. Here, therefore, is the list of abuses against Jennifer Driggers culled from staff notes in FSDB's own records. They were compiled and printed in the report produced by the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services:
11-22-85 A handful of Jennifer's hair was pulled out by another student.
11-15-86 Jennifer was hit by another student and found with blood on her face and shirt due to a nose bleed. Also on 11-15-86, she was pushed by another child, causing a bruise on her head.
01-25-87 Jennifer received a cut lip when she was hit by another student.
02-28-87 A blind boy called Jennifer an animal and pushed her.
04-09-87 Another student took Jennifer's clothes off while she was in bed and beat her with a clotheshanger.
04-10-87 Another student hit Jennifer in the head and caused her to bleed.
05-27-87 Jennifer was involved in a fight with a boy was pushed down and this resulted in severe bruises on both of her legs.
09-14-87 Jennifer was found to have severe scratches, her arms were bleeding, there was broken glass found by her bed, and another child was thought to be involved.
10-07-87 House parent left Jennifer to continue dressing herself, and when she returned Jennifer was crying there were marks, bruises and open welts all over her body. These injuries were determined to be inflicted by K.C. by using a shoe and a coat hanger.
02-20-88 Another student hit Jennifer with an umbrella and caused her nose to bleed.
03-26-88 Another student hit Jennifer and caused her to have a bloody nose.
06-06-88 Jennifer was kicked in the clavicle by another student.
09-10-88 Jennifer received a bloody nose after being hit by another student.
09-12-88 Jennifer received a bloody nose after being hit by another student.
09-13-88 Jennifer was bitten on the arm by another student.
09-16-88 Jennifer received a bloody nose after being hit by another student.
09-21-88 Jennifer received a bloody nose after being hit by another student.
Additionally we found the following notes made by staff on the daily comment sheets:
05-29-88 Staff stated, Can you believe Jennifer had no skills, cannot help herself in any way, and has the nerve to try and be stubborn and hit someone! The nerve of her!
09-09-88 Jennifer cries a lot. Children are pretty rough.
09-15-88 Staff had to push Jennifer slightly - then she accepted where she had to be led.
09-16-88 Jennifer was pestered by other kids - cried. She is too lonely to be here.
09-20-88 All these girls can hurt her bad if they blow up. She was lucky that I was in every fight.
09-22-88 Jennifer needs closer supervision to prevent other kids from beating her - happens a lot - kids can't stand her.
09-22-88 Jennifer being rejected by kids and staff (most). Getting more and more bruises from kids. Staff member feels sorry for her.
09-23-88 Jennifer is a mess - bumps and bruises - starts when she hits or pulls hair. Other kids hit back. Jennifer looks like a punching bag. Other kids okay.
Based on infirmary records and daily comment sheets, the following are incidents of unexplained injuries to Jennifer:
11-20-84 Jennifer was found to have unexplained marks on her back.
10-15-85 Jennifer was referred to the infirmary for having redness and edema on her face that was unexplained.
10-30-85 Jennifer was seen in the infirmary for a rash and red swollen face.
11-10-85 Jennifer was taken to the infirmary by dorm parent with unexplained bruise on her left shoulder.
01-12-86 Jennifer was found to have an unexplained bruise on her left upper hip. A notation was made that she had wet the bed and smelled bad.
02-13-86 Jennifer was found to have scratches on her face and neck with no explanation.
02-17-86 Jennifer was found bleeding from an unexplained laceration on her head that had to be sutured at Flagler Emergency Room.
05-06-86 Jennifer was found to have abrasions on her arms, shoulders, and around her neck with no explanation for these injuries.
05-20-86 Jennifer was found to have a bruise on her buttocks with scratches. The house parent stated she did not know what happened but felt like she had sat on something or had been jabbed with something. Later that same day she was found to have an unexplained bruise on her cheek.
11-15-86 Dorm parent found an abrasion on Jennifer's elbow, bumps and abrasions to the child's forehead while the dorm parent was giving her a shower.
11-20-86 The dorm parent found a bump and swelling on Jennifer's forehead. Severe enough for the child to be taken to the Flagler Emergency Room with no explanation for the injury.
05-09-87 Jennifer was found to have abrasions on her back. They were diagnosed as rug burns with no explanation.
10-07-87 Jennifer was found to have a bruise on her forearm.
01-08-88 Jennifer was found to have scratch on her forehead with no explanation.
02-12-88 Jennifer was found bleeding from the mouth. A tooth was missing - the tooth could not be located.
02-17-88 Jennifer had abrasions across her abdomen. Doctor diagnosed them as a rug burn.
02-18-88 Jennifer was found to have a black and blue mark on her upper arm with no explanation.
04-21-88 Jennifer was found to be bruised on her buttocks with no explanation.
09-22-88 Jennifer was found to have puffiness on right eye, curved mark on her cheek - school questions whether this may be a belt mark - many bruises on her legs.
09-30-88 Several round marks described as hickies on Jennifer's face and neck and cuts and scratches with no explanation.
10-30-88 Jennifer was found scalded and unconscious in a shower in Vaill Hall, which resulted in her death.
One hardly knows how to react to such a document. Granted, FSDB officials did not have the advantage of reading a tidily written report before this child was fatally injured, but the data were there. The staff knew that serious problems existed. Something is profoundly wrong in a system that has no mechanism for preventing what happened to this child.
Precisely what did happen is not clear. Jennifer suffered from a complicated intestinal problem, to combat which she was to be given a high-fiber diet. She was then to be placed on the toilet in a comfortable position for thirty minutes at a time. She was to have things to amuse her while she sat. The Health and Rehabilitative Services report states that no change was made in her diet. She apparently was placed on the toilet without the use of a footstool for comfort and was given neither toys nor books. The supervisor had to attend to other children who were decorating for Halloween, so she left two mildly retarded girls, ages twelve and seventeen, to supervise Jennifer. What happened next will never be known. At some point Jennifer vomited, but whether this was while she was still seated or after she was in the shower room seems to be in dispute. She removed her clothes and went (or was taken) into the shower area. One shower head did not have tempered water. All the others were adjusted in such a way that the water could not get too hot. In this one, however, the water temperature was eventually measured at 139 degrees fahrenheit. The staff reported that Jennifer Had a propensity for turning on the hot water in the showers and tubs. But her mother said that Jennifer was frightened of hot water. The two girls have said that they felt the vibration when Jennifer fell. They looked into the shower area and tried to remove her but could not. They then went for help, and the staff were eventually able to remove the child. Testimony before the grand jury indicated that the supervisor was away for only about eighteen minutes. But a source close to the situation told the Braille Monitor that the medical examiner reported she must have been exposed to the hot water for at least thirty minutes for her flesh to have been as thoroughly cooked as it was.
To one reading the bald facts of this tragedy, it seems incredible that the grand jury found no one at fault or even negligent in this situation. According to one source, the School was able to make its case convincingly that there was simply not enough money to provide adequate supervision. The supervisor on duty did not seem to have broken any rules, and apparently no one was prepared to place blame on the two retarded students. But even if the grand jury was not willing to find the School negligent, it did make recommendations. Here they are:
Dormitory staff members need training in recognizing and reporting abuse, aggression control and sign language communications.
A central filing system for all injury reports should be maintained. Appropriate dorm staff-to-student ratios should be established for multihandicapped students. The grand jury found 10 to 17 multihandicapped students have routinely been left alone with a single staff member for an entire shift. Dormitory staff members should get emergency training. Dormitory teachers should be made aware of the medical condition of each multihandicapped student in their care. A position at the school should be established to get parents of students quick information about their children. Regular reviews of programs at the school should be started. The 911 emergency system should be updated to pinpoint the exact location of school buildings.
That is what the grand jury recommended, and we wonder again about the NAC accreditation. Is it really conceivable that conditions were this bad in other parts of the School and not bad in the department for the blind? How can one segment of an institution (an institution with the problems of FSDB) be accredited in isolation from the rest of the facility? The members of the grand jury were not the only ones looking at the Driggers case and offering suggestions. Florida's newspapers have been full of the case for months. On November 13, 1988, the St. Augustine Record printed a story that dredged up old memories that the School would, no doubt, have preferred to let rest. Here is what it said:
by Cynthia Beach
Change the time and place, and the deaths of 14-year-old Christi Eddleman and 9-year-old Jennifer Driggers are all too similar. Both girls died in bizarre incidents six years apart at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind one in a scalding shower, the other suffocating inside a trash bag. Both raised questions about supervision at the state school. Each brought conflicting reports of how long the girls were left alone. Miss Eddleman's case ended with a $125,000 out-of-court settlement. No media attention. No pickets or grand jury. And, according to some, no answers.
The basis of the suit was negligent supervision, said Tampa attorney Robert Banker, who represented Miss Eddleman's mother, Donna. I felt some confusion among the people that were supervising the infirmary at the time.
I felt, yes, there was a lack of supervision in Christi's case, Banker added, and I was ready to prove it. During Banker's preparation of the case, FSDB officials were queried about staffing ratios. Banker argued if there had been additional supervision, the brown-haired girl might still be alive.
Miss Eddleman was found unconscious under her infirmary bed by an aide around 10:15 a.m. Sept. 8, 1982. She suffocated from a garbage bag and garbage can covering her head. She was found with her arms crossed over her chest. Suffering from brain damage, the girl remained in a coma until she died on May 2, 1983. I was very dissatisfied with the whole situation, Mrs. Eddleman said. They tried to act like she committed suicide. We really didn't get any answers.
Miss Eddleman, who was blind from birth, slightly retarded, and epileptic, was on medication and feeling nauseated when she checked into the facility.
With one nurse on duty and two other children in the infirmary, Miss Eddleman was left under the supervision of a maid while the nurse was in a separate section of the facility to tend to other children. FSDB officials said, however, the woman was hired as a nurse's aide, in addition to a custodian. Robert Dawson, president of Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, testified to Banker that Miss Eddleman was left alone for five minutes. Banker said the time she was left alone was never resolved, but evidence was submitted that she remained alone up to 20 minutes.
Dawson refused an interview about the lawsuit. FSDB public information officer Mary Jane Dillon replied to questions about the case with He (Dawson) had no recollection of an allegation of neglect. Yet an attorney for Banker's firm sent a letter to Dawson dated Nov. 17, 1982, saying an investigation conducted into this matter indicates that Christi's injuries were caused solely by the negligence of employees of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
Dawson met recently with officials of the state's Office of Risk Management in Tallahassee, the agency which oversees civil lawsuits against state agencies. Said Mrs. Dillon, In a meeting with an official with risk management in Tallahassee... it was confirmed it was not an issue of neglect. An attorney representing the state, Bernard McLendon of Jacksonville, responded to the suit in 1984 by placing the blame on the girl. He contended the death was due to the carelessness and negligence of the deceased.
Nurse Betty Frady, who was on duty at the time of her death, told Banker she was short-handed in the infirmary at the time because another nurse who was supposed to be on duty had called in sick. A replacement was not called in. Only the maid would keep an eye on the students when she (Ms. Frady) was up in the clinic, testified the infirmary's head nurse, Shirley Harvey.
The staffing standards had been compiled by the FSDB board of trustees, who had no medical training, said Dawson, except one member who was a dentist.
Banker also questioned why the infirmary staff allowed the child to use the bathroom alone, leaving her unattended with a tub, sink, shower, and mirror.
But, he added, My impression of that school was it's a good school. They do wonderful things up there. Through no fault of their own, they probably didn't have enough money to care for the kids. The death was investigated by the St. Augustine Police Department, who ruled the death accidental after interviewing staff members. Mrs. Eddleman told police she found a large bruise on her daughter's right side.
As a result of her death, changes in the infirmary were implemented, according to Dawson's testimony. We immediately took all the plastic bags out of the wastebaskets, and the nurses were told, `From here on out, you're not going to have coffee together,' said Dawson, according to court records. But the death of Miss Driggers has resulted in more than a $125,000 settlement.
The St. Johns County grand jury is investigating, along with probes (ordered by Gov. Bob Martinez) of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Those reports are expected to be completed by December. Deputy State Attorney Steve Alexander said the jury will reconvene when the Florida Department of Law Enforcement report is completed, and a presentment will follow. Department of Education Commissioner Betty Castor has allocated approximately $100,000 to the school for immediate additional staffing at Vaill Hall, the dorm where Miss Driggers died. The jury investigation also could look into requests made by FSDB trustees and allocations given by the Florida Legislature relating to staffing.
If I don't get answers here, said Miss Driggers' mother, Robin Williams, I'm not going to stop.
That was the November 13, 1988, story in the St. Augustine Record , and it is easy to see why the reporter was reminded of the earlier tragedy as she worked on the Driggers story. It is also clear that tragic lapses in staff supervision of students at FSDB are not recent or isolated occurrences. The Department of Education managed to find $100,000 immediately in order to provide ten more dormitory supervisors for Vaill Hall. Though several months have passed since the allocation was made, our information indicates that no additional personnel have yet been hired. Even if (as some have alleged) the delay is more a matter of bureaucratic inertia than laxness on the part of the School, those involved are still culpable. The Department of Education's response to the School's lament that eighteen and a half million dollars a year is not enough to run the School was the first indication that the funding excuse might be taken seriously as a mitigating circumstance. The grand jury's decision in December of 1988 was the second. But not everyone was prepared to say that the School was blameless. At FSDB, School officials seem to believe that the press has been unjust to the institution. They say that the School has been the victim of bad luck and that no one set out to harm these children except, of course, the five male staff members who assaulted students and, after all, they were fired. The press, however, was not the only body to criticize the School as ultimately responsible for what happened to Jennifer and the others.
The Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) was charged with the duty of investigating the School in the wake of the Driggers death. On December 7, 1988, it released an exhaustive study. An independent organization called Therapeutic Concepts, Inc. conducted the actual assessment of the facility, and HRS officials wrote the final report, including eighty-five recommendations. On December 8, 1988, the St. Augustine Record printed two stories about the case, the HRS report, and the FSDB Board of Trustees' reaction. Here are both:
by Cynthia Beach
Unqualified staff, an insensitive administration and excessive physical and mental abuse of students at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind were cited in a hypercritical report released late Wednesday by a state health agency. Sweeping suggestions by the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services for the state-run school include dismantling the board of trustees and freezing student enrollment.
The school provides residential and academic programs for deaf, blind, and (on an increasing level) multi-handicapped students. And although a dorm for multi-handicapped students is dangerous for children, the report says, students are at risk of abuse in all FSDB residential facilities.
In addition to nine suicidal acts by students during the past year, drug abuse and depression may also be problems among FSDB students, it states.
An administration which receives 33 percent of the school's tax-funded salaries, it says, has been uninvolved in the day-to-day operation of the school. A general lack of accountability of school administration coupled with poor management practices also was outlined. The report calls Vaill Hall, the dorm for multi-handicapped students such as the late Jennifer Driggers, a poorly staffed, inadequate facility. The findings and recommendations are part of a 100-page report completed by HRS investigators and a private consulting firm, Therapeutic Concepts Inc. of Jacksonville. The report was released Wednesday following a press conference by Gov. Bob Martinez.
Martinez called for the probes following the Oct. 13 death of 9-year-old Jennifer Driggers, a deaf, multi-handicapped dorm student. Miss Driggers died after being left unattended in a scalding dorm shower.
HRS officials feel the school provides excellent overall classroom instruction, but the health and safety of multi-handicapped children and other dorm students have been largely overlooked. The report says about 80 percent of the students' time is spent in dorms, as opposed to 20 percent of time in classrooms.
Aside from staffing inadequacies, HRS officials found poor sanitary conditions for food preparation, fire code violations, a lack of security, inappropriate disciplinary practices, and students who were afraid of reprisal if they reported abuse. Close to 19 percent of the 530 students reported being abused since 1981, with four abuse cases involving neglect at the school.
Miss Driggers, according to separate reports, had been the subject of physical abuse numerous times while at the school, including being beaten by a coat hanger.
The report says some students appeared traumatized by the death of Miss Driggers, but FSDB administration and staff appear insensitive to their mental health needs.
The report, without a timetable, recommends:
Establishment of licensing standards by HRS through legislation. Suggested
are the founding of a support program for abused children and improved reviews
of students' educational progress.
The report also concludes: adults who have committed sexual abuse on students be tested for AIDS, a building for multi-handicapped students under construction be checked for suitability, criminal history checks and abuse registry checks for dorm staff, and further analysis of FSDB management.
Management, it suggests, faces problems of increased expenses per child and high ratios of administrative costs to direct service costs.
Administration lacks a sufficient understanding at all levels relating to the needs of the multi-handicapped.
HRS also found administration lacking in:
Other problems for students include:
Inadequate disciplinary practices, namely, students being placed for up to 10 days in seclusion.
* Menus, room signs, microwave ovens and stoves not Braille labeled.
by Pete Osborne and Deborah Squires
Gov. Bob Martinez has urged the board of trustees of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and two other state departments to implement immediate changes at the school located here. Martinez urged the changes after accepting a lengthy report Wednesday critical of many aspects of the 102-year-old school. But the governor's view is not universally shared by the school's trustees.
In my opinion that report is not valid at all, said board member Celida Grau of Hialeah.
Mrs. Grau, the parent of a recent FSDB graduate, said the governor has been misinformed about everything, and that investigators sent by his office were ignorant about handicaps. However, she said the original scope of the school, to educate the blind and the deaf, should be emphasized. The state has pushed for inclusion of multi-handicapped students that should not really be there, Mrs. Grau said.
Trustee chairman Gene Pillot of Sarasota said, I categorically and strongly disagree with dissolving the board as a governing body. To give the school to the Department of Education is to guarantee that the right kind of attention to governing the school is not going to be given.
Pillot said dissolving the board would be a patently wrong decision. Besides the FSDB board of trustees, which meets here Friday, Martinez sent the report and its recommendations to the state Department of Education and back to the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The trustees meeting was scheduled prior to the Oct. 13 scalding death of Jennifer Driggers, 9, of Ruskin.
School President Robert T. Dawson declined Wednesday to comment upon the report or the governor's recommendations, saying he had just received a 35-page summary of the findings and recommendations. My priorities are set to prepare for the grand jury and the board, Dawson said. I need to spend all the time I can preparing for those two meetings, he told The Record. That's why I made the decision not to make myself available to the press until then. The St. Johns County grand jury today continues its investigation into the death of Miss Driggers, as well as other incidents at the school in recent months. The board of trustees meets at the campus Friday at 9 a.m.
The report given to Martinez detailed a month-long investigation by HRS and contained 85 recommendations prepared by that department and Therapeutic Concepts Inc., a private consulting firm.
Martinez ordered the investigation after Miss Driggers' scalding death in a dormitory shower. Miss Driggers was enrolled in the school's multi-handicapped program.
In his Wednesday press conference in Tallahassee, Martinez said, dramatic change must occur at the school to ensure the safety of the 530 students.
In accepting the report, the governor said the school needs to be changed, overhauled.
The investigation revealed that about 40 students had been reported as abused, and nine suicidal acts by students were recorded in the past year.
Other findings of the report include:
Saying the state would seek to take governing control of the school operated
by the board of trustees, Martinez said, We need to reduce the level of incidence
of injury. There is urgency here, he said.
However, the governor would not answer questions about the safety of students still residing at Vaill Hall, where the Driggers girl died.
School trustee William Proctor of St. Augustine, president of Flagler College, said I'd have to look at that recommendation, referring to the governor's statements.
It would be premature on my part to make any statement. I would hope the administration would give us some reaction to it, but even tomorrow at the board meeting it would be hard to comment. Stephen Kiser of Tallahassee joins the board of trustees at its meeting Friday.
I don't really know at this point what I'm getting into, he said Wednesday night.
I have no problem conceptually with a single school serving the deaf and blind, and, in addition, serving the multi-handicapped, assuming they have the facility to do that, the staff to do that. Lumping together, I don't think is good for either group, he added, saying proper facilities would be separate. However, if it's going to be a custodial facility, then I certainly think it should meet HRS standards.
Trustees Mike Hannon of Ponte Vedra Beach and Gay Gold, Tampa, contacted by The Record Wednesday night, declined to comment on the matter. But the school's former president, William McClure of St. Augustine, had strong comments:
I think the problem is that the state has regarded the school as a dumping ground a place to send children that have no other place to go. When I was president we didn't have to take these children, he said.
The problem is not with the administration, but with what has been expected of the school in recent years without providing for it. I think Mr. Dawson is a fine administrator. The state has demanded they take these children.
I don't think the state has provided adequately for this kind of child, McClure said. The school has asked for a review because that precedes change, and they haven't gotten that from the state.
In my opinion they (multi-handicapped) shouldn't be there, McClure said in response to Martinez's calls for increased provisions for the multi-handicapped.
I would say the change needs to be going back to the type of student the school has traditionally had, McClure added. Trustee Mary Mauldin, Panama City, attends her last meeting tomorrow and will be replaced by Kiser.
Personally, I think that would be a mistake, she said of the governor's recommendations.
But she said she felt the capable deaf and blind students in the state are being shortchanged under present circumstances. Mrs. Mauldin, who is blind, is an FSDB graduate.
That's what the St. Augustine Record paper said about the release of the HRS report, and other news organizations around the state also focused on the same recommendations and the Governor's public reaction to the findings. The cumulative power of the non-binding recommendations is staggering. There has been widespread speculation about whether or not the School would implement any of them. The board met January 14, 1989, to consider its response to the HRS report. Most of the recommendations would be fairly simple to put into place. Detergent can be removed from containers that say pancake and waffle syrup, and janitorial and medical supplies can easily be made secure. It should not even be particularly expensive to insure that dishes are washed in sanitary conditions in buildings with a water supply hot enough to scald a child to death. And, as a matter of fact, at its January 14, 1989, meeting the Board passed a resolution directing the administration to comply with all of the safety-connected recommendations and to report to the board about how long it would take to complete their implementation. But there are a handful of recommendations which HRS and the Department of Education view as very important that the board will find more difficult to implement. The HRS recommendation to freeze school admissions immediately until the FSDB house is in order was not carried out immediately by the president. Actually, according to one source, what HRS wanted was to insure that the multihandicapped population would not increase until it could be certain that those children were receiving proper treatment. According to our information Dawson has not imposed the recommended freeze on multihandicapped admissions, but as of the beginning of 1989 he has (with the concurrence of the Board of Trustees) reportedly changed the old procedure of evaluating hard-to-place youngsters after admission. From now on, even if a prolonged assessment is necessary, it will presumably be completed before a child is enrolled.
With respect to the knotty problem of integrating the academic and residential programs for the students at FSDB, the board voted to merge the Individual Educational Plan and the Individual Dormitory Plan for each child into one document. This should enable the right hand to know what the left is doing. How the entire residential program is to be integrated into the two academic departments is more difficult to determine. But the question is now under study.
The Board of Trustees is not at all willing to vote itself out of existence, but it is struggling with the problem of accountability. Negotiators have been working on a plan that would, in effect, designate the school as the sixty-eighth school district in the state. The Board of Trustees would then act as the school board. The school would clearly be subject to Public Law 94-142, and referrals of multihandicapped students would be made by school districts. The Department of Education would have jurisdiction over the school. We are told that the board's attorney is examining several very real problems associated with this plan.
In the meantime there may be another, simpler way of resolving the accountability issues. Consideration is being given to strengthening an agreement between the school and the Department of Education which would give the department jurisdiction over the school. These reported negotiations may or may not be successful. According to one source, Betty Caster, Commissioner of Education, has assured the Board that she has no intention of going to the Legislature to ask them for clarification on the question of whether or not the School is bound by Public Law 94-142 and the issue of parental choice. In cases of multihandicapped youngsters this appears to be a deeply held principle at the School, and parents are reportedly adamant about preserving it.
Perhaps a word should be said about the parents' reaction to the the revelations of the past year. One mother withdrew her son from the school in the aftermath of the Driggers death. Another parent testified before the grand jury about her son's treatment at the school before she withdrew him several years ago. She had tried then to make other parents take her warnings about staff abuses seriously, but they were reportedly unwilling to do so. Throughout this past fall, parents have been fiercely loyal to the school. They rallied to protest the efforts of the assistant state's attorney who was pleading Florida's case before the grand jury. They were part of the cheering section in a gathering that took place when the grand jury found the School not guilty of negligence in December of 1988. And they have been lobbying Craig Kiser, the new member of the Board of Trustees and a blind attorney. These parents are convinced that the school is the best place for their children and that it is being maligned. Many in the blind community in Florida wonder how much of this support for the school is a direct result of parents' panic at the prospect of having to provide year-round supervision of their children. It is impossible to judge from the outside, but one would feel more confidence in the wisdom of the parents' stand if the general public (parents of blind, deaf, and multihandicapped children included) were free of ignorance and prejudice concerning such youngsters.
Maybe there is hope for the students at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, but one would have to be powerfully optimistic to believe it. Judging from the amount of distrust, fear, and despair reported among students in the HRS findings, the children are not hopeful about their situation. Perhaps now that state officials have entered the picture, changes for the better will be made at the School. From now on, the institution will presumably be accountable for its actions to outside experts. This, of course, is what one expects as a benefit of accreditation. And on this subject the HRS had an interesting comment:
There was, its report said, no evidence of an ongoing self-assessment based on the school's objectives, goals, and organizational framework. There were no effective problem-solving activities, including an ongoing review and evaluation of services provided for the students and procedures for remedial action, as deemed necessary. The School for the Blind had pursued accreditation, but this process was not an internal quality assurance mechanism.
This is what the HRS report says. NAC is the accrediting body referred to, but it is interesting to note with what respect HRS treats the highly touted (by NAC, at any rate) self-study required of member agencies. HRS says that there was no evidence of such internal quality assurance mechanism. When the Associate Editor of the Braille Monitor asked Dennis Hartenstein, Executive Director of NAC, for his reaction to the FSDB situation, he said, I can't comment on any programs that we do not accredit. Many of HRS's findings and recommendations, however, apply to the entire School, and all the children at FSDB are suffering from the School's current crisis. Hartenstein was asked specifically if NAC would be concerned by an incident in a member agency like the one in which a male FSDB teacher in the Department for the Blind, after plea-bargaining, offered no contest to a charge of battery against a blind female student. Under Florida law, A person commits battery if he: (a) actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other; or (b) intentionally causes bodily harm to an individual. It is the charge typically brought when authorities are backing off from pressing charges of sexual offenses. Sources have assured the Braille Monitor that this case was only the most clear-cut of several brought against the teacher in question by female high school students. Hartenstein replied that NAC certainly would be concerned about such a problem and was only waiting for the report on the incident. Since it occurred in May of 1988, the report seems a little slow in arriving on Mr. Hartenstein's desk. But then there were a lot of problems at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind last spring, and record-keeping does not seem to be the administration's long suit. The problems faced by the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind are complex and difficult. Every such school is struggling with the question of meeting the needs of multihandicapped youngsters. Society does not know how to deal with such children, and dumping them into schools for the blind or deaf, when that impairment is one of the child's handicaps, has become the standard solution. In cases like Jennifer Driggers', it is not the correct one, however, and schools and parents should insist on seeing that the proper determination is made. But as so often happens, the schools seem to be eager to insure their continued existence by snapping up every child they are offered, and parents too often are grateful to have any assignment at all made for their children. But regardless of whether or not a given youngster belongs in a particular school, it must be a fundamental principle that every child should be safe safe from assault by teachers, staff, and other students; and safe from subhuman care. Even if FSDB officials are correct in their contention that they are trying to do their best for the students enrolled at the school and that no one knowingly set out to injure Jennifer Driggers, the press and public's outrage focused on the school during the past several months has been justified. In fact, the only fault to be found with it is that it did not begin sooner. The Board of Trustees, or whoever is finally charged with running the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, must find and train competent staff, people who can keep accurate records and devise sensible procedures. Recruitment for dormitory staff has already improved with the doubling of the number of references required and the stipulation that the writer have known the applicant for two years. Such changes take no additional funds and very little extra time.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is not going to go away. There are children living in Florida who need the kind of care provided by such an institution. There are others who will be dumped there because families or local schools cannot or will not keep them at home for their education. The same statements can be made about every residential school in the country. We in the National Federation of the Blind must be vigilant. In a very real way these are our spiritual children. We must fight for their right to a good education in the most constructive environment which can be provided. We must do what we can to guard their safety and well-being. We must also insure that the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and its like are no longer dangerous places for children.
Postscript: After completing this article, we received further information. On January 20, 1989, the Associate Editor talked with both Robert Dawson, President of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and Tuck Tinsley, Principal of the Department for the Blind. On January 23, 1989, the Editor talked with Tinsley.
Mr. Dawson said with respect to the live-in house parent question that it had traditionally been the practice at the School to have live-in house parents plus a roving supervisor who circulated through the dormitories throughout the night to see that all was well but that the School became worried about the provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The concern was that since the house parents would be expected to be available for emergencies anytime during the night, compensation would have to be paid as if they were on full-time duty. Dawson said that such compensation had not been paid and that, accordingly, the practice of having live-in house parents had been discontinued. With respect to more staff to supervise activities at Vaill Hall, Dawson said that the promised $100,000 for extra employees has just now (January) been received. He said that immediately after the Driggers tragedy, staff was transferred from a segment of the deaf program to fill the need at Vaill Hall on a temporary basis and that those staff will now be able to return to their former assignments.
Dawson emphasized his conviction that the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is deeply committed to the welfare of its students and that both he and the board are behaving accordingly. He says he feels that the HRS recommendations are seriously flawed but that the school will move quickly and decisively to implement those that are valid. In view of the long years of chaos and mismanagement one has to wonder why the Driggers death and the HRS report were needed to make Dawson take action action which he says will be immediate and thorough.
Dr. Tinsley, who is said by some to be the brightest and most sensitive administrative staff member at the school, has apparently decided to leave. On January 19, 1989, we were informed that Dr. Tinsley had accepted the position of President of the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky, succeeding Dr. Carson Nolan.
The Associate Editor began her conversation with Dr. Tinsley by alluding to this new appointment. He said that he felt that the problems at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind were almost entirely in other areas of the institution and not in the department for the blind. He said that the HRS report commended the staff of the department for the blind for warmth and understanding and the dormitory for being cheery. In this connection no mention was made of the sex abuse charges. Dr. Tinsley told the Associate Editor that NAC met in Houston during the weekend of January 14, 1989, and renewed the accreditation of the department for the blind of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind for the maximum term. He said that NAC commended the school for its work study program, which brings Flagler College students onto the FSDB campus; its eye health care program; its ear, nose, and throat clinic; its mobility pass program; and its dormitory curriculum. In addition, he said that the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools has also recently accredited the school with commendation. In this connection it should be kept in mind that outside accrediting bodies such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools tend (this is part of the problem) to rely on NAC accreditation and simply rubber stamp what NAC does. It is to be hoped that the Florida case will go a long way toward changing this.
When Dr. Tinsley talked with the Editor on January 23, he confirmed that there was a sex abuse offense by a staff member in the department for the blind against a blind student some time early last year and another such case of sex abuse by a teacher in the department for the blind in either 1986 or 1987. Dr. Tinsley couldn't remember exactly when. In answer to a question from the Editor Dr. Tinsley said that he believed at least some time was spent in jail by one or the other of the offenders. He said the school was very concerned about such things.
When Dr. Tinsley was asked whether NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped) had been aware of these problems at the School, he said yes. He said that the NAC team had been on hand last year in the midst of some of the revelations. When he was asked to comment on whether NAC's silence about the problems of the school and its reaccreditation of the school in January of 1989 might not legitimately give rise to questions about NAC's claim that its seal of approval is an assurance of quality services, he remained silent.
Dr. Tinsley said that the Florida School is a good institution and that the charges against it are politically motivated. He gave no explanation as to why anyone would be motivated to attack the school politically, and he confirmed the facts concerning the major abuses we have detailed.
It will be remembered that Dennis Hartenstine, NAC's executive director, told the Monitor's Associate Editor that he was waiting for a report concerning the sex abuse incidents in the department for the blind at the school before taking any action. In light of subsequent developments we can reasonably guess what he meant. If Dr. Tinsley's report is accurate, NAC reaccredited the school on the weekend of January 14, 1989, with accolades and commendation. The facts speak for themselves, and neither the blind of the nation nor the self-respecting agencies and schools will forget or remain silent.
There were more such journalistic investigations and with them more shocking revelations in the months that followed that initial probe of the Florida School. There were other schools with NAC accreditation (such as Alabama) which turned out to be no less shabby; there were training centers (such as that of Iowa) which were revealed as dens of financial corruption; and there were sheltered workshops (like that of Lubbock, Texas) that were shown to be places of violence and oppression. There would be still more such investigations and revelations in the pages of the Braille Monitor in the years to come, following the pattern of fearless inquiry and full disclosure laid down by Editor Kenneth Jernigan. Few if any, however, were likely to be more effective, more expert, or more eloquent than an article directed to the practices of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind which appeared in the February, 1990, issue of the Monitor. It may serve here as an appropriate closing testament to this account of the evolution of the Braille Monitor.
by Barbara Pierce
Maybe there is something about work with the blind that attracts disreputable people or encourages the proliferation of despicable human impulses. Maybe, like televangelists, agency personnel in this field are held in such reverence by the public at large that some of them begin to think they are above the law. Or perhaps it is merely the presence in the field of an accrediting body (NAC) that provides protection for virtually any shoddy practice (as long as only the blind are injured), perpetuating a network that inflates or fumigates professional reputations as required. NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped) may be dying, but it still provides a facade behind which many of its member agencies, and most especially their senior officials, seem to believe they can snuff out the dreams and sometimes the very lives of their clients or students while reaping substantial public commendation and personal financial rewards.
Many of the blind in Alabama feel that Jack Hawkins, Dr. Jack Hawkins (who until July 2, 1989, was the president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind at Talladega), is a perfect example of this breed. In the ten years (1979-1989) during which he served as president of this NAC-accredited agency, he severely damaged the Institute's sheltered workshop, using its entire $900,000 nest egg, according to workshop officials, to handle bills the Institute failed to pay after an agency reorganization. His administration consistently invested more funds in the School for the Deaf than the School for the Blind, with such unfairness that even the deaf raised objections. In the opinion of many of the alumni, the AIDB Foundation, which Hawkins established, materially contributed to the increased segregation of both blind and deaf students from the larger community.
The casual hiring practices of Hawkins's administration led, according to many, directly to bringing a man to the Institute who murdered four people associated with the agency. And as if all this were not enough, when in the summer of 1989 he moved out of Talladega to take the position of Chancellor at Alabama's Troy State University, he left behind him police investigations and Ethics Commission probes into two separate matters. He also took with him without authorization thousands of dollars worth of Alabama state property. Last year it was the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. Now it is Alabama. What NAC-accredited agency will be next, and what has yet to be uncovered?
But back to Alabama. Has Hawkins's reputation been destroyed by these revelations? It has certainly been tarnished, but astonishingly he continues to serve as a member of the American Foundation for the Blind's board, and he has moved onward and, one presumes, upward to a university presidency. As to the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, it is not at all astonishing that it continues to enjoy NAC accreditation. After all, what is NAC accreditation for?
The job at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind which Hawkins left last summer at age forty-four paid him a reported salary of $85,000 a year with an additional expense account of $4,000, and his business travel and entertainment costs were, of course, reimbursed in addition. But there is more: He lived in the President's Mansion (their apt terminology, not ours) at the Institute a residence which included the services of a maid and gardener, and there is still more: To keep the wolf from scratching the paint from the door of this NAC-accredited mansion the state also reportedly paid for utilities (including phone). But even all of that was apparently not enough. The Hawkinses (as press accounts make painfully clear in minute detail) were permitted to purchase with state funds and to use a mind-boggling array of luxuries. It is hard to believe that the Troy State Chancellorship can be more attractive than what Hawkins had, but why else would he leave the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, where he had (as the saying goes) the world by the tail with a downhill drag?
The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) in Talladega essentially provides such services as there are for the deaf and the blind of the state. The Institute consists of the industries program (a large sheltered shop, producing an impressive array of products and providing jobs for more than 300 blind and physically handicapped people); the E. H. Gentry Technical School (offering limited rehabilitation and post-secondary training in some fifteen trades); the Helen Keller School (serving deaf-blind and other severely handicapped children from a number of states); the School for the Deaf; and the School for the Blind. The Governor of Alabama appoints a board of trustees to oversee this conglomerate, and the board hires the president of the Institute.
Until the early 1980s the adult programs at the Institute had a more or less autonomous director, who (like the Institute's president) answered directly to the Legislature and prepared and managed a budget separate from that of the rest of the Institute. But all things change, and in September of 1979 thirty-four-year-old Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. was appointed president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. He was (according to those who observed him for the past decade) young, energetic, and ambitiousso ambitious that he was not content merely to be president of AIDB. He persuaded his board to give him extra power and responsibility. In addition to the presidency of the Institute they appointed him to be director of Adult Services so that he alone would report to the Legislature and so that only through his office would flow the budget appropriations for the entire conglomerate. Presumably it was argued that this reorganization would result in eliminating duplication and waste, thus increasing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the entire administration.
But the financial figures that have now come to light reveal that something else happened instead something that had drained funds from Adult Services to the great benefit of the School for the Deaf. In 1988 the Alabama Legislature budgeted just under ten million dollars for the Institute's Children and Youth Services, which includes the School for the Blind, the School for the Deaf, the Helen Keller School, and the Parent-Infant Preschool Program. Adult Services received an appropriation of about three and a half million dollars, and the Industries Program got about one and a half million. According to sources close to the Industries Program, this last appropriation is intended to cover the expenses incurred in providing daily transportation for workshop workers and in subsidizing the wages of those workers who cannot work competitively. Though Industries' staff members seem not to have access to the figures that would reveal how much profit or deficit their program is running, they report that Adult Services was expected in 1988 to find almost three quarters of a million dollars as its contribution to what was called Shared Services the concept here being that each component of the Institute should contribute toward defraying the costs of the services that they all share. With a combined budget of less than half that of the Children and Youth Allocation, Adult Services was suddenly asked to cover sizable new chunks of the Shared Services budget and to do so without any increase in its budget. One is left to conclude that the Industries program must have been showing a profit since Adult Services did manage to produce the funds demanded for shared programs.
According to a confidential document, which was inadvertently released by the Institute, during the first eleven months of the 1988 fiscal year Adult Services contributed the following amounts in several categories of these Shared Services: $47,954 of the $65,000 salary paid to the vice president whose duties included supervision of the Industries program; $134,000 for health services (according to Industries sources, this bought workers three hours a week of a nurse's time); $44,598, a little more than half of the president's salary; $13,739, about one quarter of the salary of the executive assistant to the president; $147,410, for the business affairs office; $26,583, half of the development officer's salary; $13,062, half of the cost of running the Publications Office; $9,966, about a fifth of the public affairs officer's salary; and $5,424, half of the salary of the president's maid a salary which, unlike those of the professionals on the staff, would seem to be anything but queenly.
Annualized, Adult Services assessments for shared services for the 1988 fiscal year total $720,000, and Adult Services officials and area legislators reportedly pleaded with the Institute's president and the board to reduce the amount for fiscal 1989. But for whatever reason, the 1989 assessment against Adult Programs was set at $801,000. Also effective in 1989, the board voted to transfer $500,000 from the Adult Programs unrestricted fund money not provided by the state for specific uses and therefore, almost certainly, profits earned by the blind workers and plowed back into the Industries Program to be used for future funding projects, according to a resolution passed at the August, 1988, board of trustees meeting. Apparently the fund transfer will enable the institution to use the money for construction projects on its school campuses.
At the same time all this was happening, the sheltered shop staff was learning the hard way that their bills seemed to be the last ones paid by the Institute, now that the Industries Program was not independently responsible for its own budget and bill-paying. According to those close to the Industries Program, by March of 1988 the shop owed some 1.3 million dollars to suppliers a revelation which the staffers found astonishing and infuriating. Even National Industries for the Blind made inquiries about when the Alabama shop planned to pay its outstanding bills. Rumor has it, however, that by September of 1989 the amount owed was down to $198,000 and that at the end of the year the slate had been wiped clean. But a decade ago the Industries Program had a nest egg of $900,000 set aside for large equipment purchase and meeting emergencies a pot of gold which seems to be entirely gone now. Shop workers and management don't usually agree on much at Alabama Industries for the Blind, but the one clear exception is the notion that merging their Program with the rest of the Institute under Dr. Hawkins has been bad for the shop and bad for the state's blind adults.
In the Alabama Code of 1975 the Legislature clearly established the separation between Children and Youth Services and the Adult Programs, so when Hawkins made his grab, there was a growing restiveness. By the late 1980s concerned citizens encouraged a local legislator (Clarence Haynes) to request the Alabama Attorney General to render an opinion on the legality of the Hawkins reorganization. On February 24, 1989, the Attorney General handed down his opinion, clearly stating that the Hawkins reorganization is illegal. Here is what the Attorney General said:
Don Siegelman Attorney General
February 24, 1989
Honorable Clarence E. Haynes
Member, House of Representatives
Dear Representative Haynes:
This opinion is issued in response to your request for an opinion from the Attorney General.
Question: Can the department of adult blind and deaf be combined with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind?
Facts and Analysis: The statute establishing the department of adult blind and deaf is found at Code of Alabama 1975, Section 21-1-15. It states:
There shall be at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind a separate department of adult blind and deaf. Legislative appropriations for the department shall be made separate and apart from the legislative appropriations made for the support and operation of this institute. The department shall have the authority to establish and to operate a library service for blind, visually handicapped, deaf, or severely handicapped persons, and the department is hereby designated as the official agency to operate a regional library for the blind, visually handicapped, deaf, and severely handicapped. [In 1976 then Governor Wallace transferred authority for the library to the State Library.]
The fundamental rule in construing a statute is to ascertain and effectuate legislative intent as expressed in the statute. This intent may be gleaned from the language used, the reason and necessity for the act, and the purpose sought to be obtained. Shelton v. Wright, 439 So.2d 55 (Ala.1983).
Section 21-1-15 states that the department of adult blind and deaf is to be a separate department in the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. According to the statute, legislative appropriations for the department are to be made separate and apart from legislative appropriations made for the support and operation of the institute. These appropriations are to be used solely for the operation of the Adult Deaf and Blind Department. The department is authorized to establish and to operate a library service for blind, visually handicapped, deaf, and severely handicapped persons and is designated as the official agency to operate a regional library for such persons. Therefore, the language used in Section 21-1-15 and the purpose in enacting the statute indicate that it was the intent of the legislature that the department of adult blind and deaf was to be separate from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. Furthermore, my research does not reveal any authority that would permit the department to be combined with the Institute for the Deaf and Blind.
Conclusion: The department of adult blind and deaf cannot be combined with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.
I hope this sufficiently answers your question. If our office can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
That is what the Attorney General said, but almost a year later it is still not clear what impact the opinion will have on business as usual at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. The board is the body that will have to change the institution's course, and forcing that action may require a lawsuit, which several people with whom we talked seem prepared to undertake if necessary.
In the meantime one might be pardoned for hoping that, even if the blind adults in Alabama are suffering because of shared services and mingled funding, blind children, at least, might be benefiting from the skewed system. Alas, this does not seem to be the case. A document circulated to the board of trustees at their August, 1989, meeting indicates that during the past ten years $16,272,000 has been spent for renovation of existing structures, construction of new buildings, and maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Of this amount $9,569,000 was spent on the School for the Deaf and $2,411,000 on the School for the Blind. In fact, the physical plant of the School for the Deaf received about one and a half times the amount spent on the facilities of all other programs combined. The disproportion has become so lopsided that the Board of Trustees' deaf consumer representative recently recommended that more money be allocated to the School for the Blind, though there is no evidence yet that her plea will be heeded. Parenthetically one might inquire whether the academic programs of these schools are so sound that there really is sixteen million dollars available to lavish on physical plant and presidential luxuries, important as buildings and luxuries may be. Many in the blind community and several in the Alabama Legislature believe that the answer should have been no. But Dr. Hawkins clearly recognized the advantage of heading a facility that looked attractive, whether or not the students were flourishing or, for that matter, safe.
For example, the two vans used by the School for the Blind both have driven, according to the School's principal, more than 200,000 miles. One is a 1975 model; the other was built in 1977. The Institute's director of transportation has said that one of the two is not road-worthy for any extended driving, but as far as is generally known, there are no imminent plans to replace either vehicle.
We are informed that according to a recent furniture bid, the cost of furnishing and equipping the new student center at the School for the Deaf was $198,000 (with $105,000 being spent on furniture alone). On the other hand, the amount spent on furniture in the entire School for the Blind during the decade was $220,000. The new deaf student center contains a conference table, costing a princely $5,500, and 448 stacking chairs, each of which cost $46. During a recent alumni event at the School for the Blind, attendees report that the folding chairs they were using kept collapsing under them. The only other startling expenditures on the furniture bid are a $2,000 desk and several $238 trash baskets. It is puzzling to know how one could manage to spend $238 on a single indoor trash receptacle, but it must be gratifying for the deaf students to know that even their trash is departing in high style.
If the school-age blind population being served in Alabama had been shrinking more rapidly than the deaf population during the past decade, marked differences in the funds expended on the schools might be understandable. But ten years ago 480 deaf students were enrolled at that school, and today there are 240a decrease of 50 percent. In 1979 140 students attended the School for the Blind; today there are 130 decrease of less than 10 percent. The Helen Keller School served 135 children in 1979 and enrolls 90 today, 60 of whom are visually impaired. The Parent-Infant Preschool Program works with about 125 blind children and roughly the same number of deaf children. The E. H. Gentry facility has historically served a population, sixty percent of whom are visually impaired, and about two-thirds of the adults working at Alabama Industries for the Blind are blind and about one-third sighted or otherwise handicapped. It is clear from these figures, reported by an Institute official as having been drawn from the Alabama Institute's own annual report, that today a majority of the people served by the institution are blind.
Some observers have worried about what they see as the Institute's increasing tendency under the Hawkins administration to segregate its students from the greater Talladega community. Hawkins' AIDB Foundation one of those convenient nonprofit reservoirs of money that officials can channel in directions not approved by the legislature built a chapel that, according to members of the alumni, the students didn't need. These members of the alumni believe that it was preferable for youngsters to attend churches in the town rather than having separate services in a private facility. But the chapel was built to serve the students whether they liked or needed it or not, and as a result, the inmates of the Institute were separated still further from the town.
During the early eighties, apparently as a cost-cutting measure, the Hawkins administration decided to reduce the Institute's security staff. At the same time observers close to the institution report that it was engaging in the kind of sloppy hiring practices that led to such catastrophic results at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
We are told that a man was hired to offer both deaf and blind youngsters at AIDB firsthand experience in artistic expression, without an interview or research into his background. The new employee brought a friend (Daniel Spence) to Talladega with him who had jumped bail in San Francisco and escaped from prison in Nevada, where he had been serving a sentence for stabbing a man to death in a homosexual brawl. This second man, too, began establishing contact with blind and deaf students as a volunteer aide. He described himself around town as working at the Institute, according to sources close to the situation. But again, so far as we can determine, no effort was made to learn anything about the man.
Probably on February 21, 1986 (not all the bodies were discovered for some time), Danny Lee Siebert (also known as Daniel Spence) entered an apartment building housing disabled people and killed two deaf women and the two small sons of one of them. Sometime later in the rampage he also killed his next door neighbor and abandoned her body in a wooded area. Perhaps a routine background check, a face-to-face interview, or the presence of security officers on campus would have done nothing to prevent what happened, but one wonders. NAC, of course, showed no public concern. Whether they were privately concerned, we have no way of knowing. Only one of the deaf women was actually a current Institute student (the other was an alumna), so neither was enrolled in the School for the Blind. The fact that blind Institute students could just as easily have been the ones killed was immaterial. Cavalier hiring practices and cost-cutting in security measures presumably have nothing to do with standards and quality of services in the NAC lexicon.
In May of 1989 Dennis Hartenstine, executive director of NAC, boasted to blind consumers in Michigan: I assure you, if anything ever occurred and our commission [NAC's Commission on Accreditation] was concerned about the safety of the organization, the safety of the individuals being served and the accredited body did not take action to make changes, the Commission would withdraw accreditation. Viewed in the uncompromising light of Florida and Alabama, NAC's promises, like its standards of excellence, can be seen for what they area sham and a mockery.
Apparently everyone in Talladega worked together to hush things up. Only a few people, labeled by the Institute as blind trouble-makers, asked difficult questions, and no one in the administration of the Institute or the accrediting body that was supposed to lend it respectability was visibly interested in seeking hard answers.
Hawkins did summarily fire the art instructor, but the instructor was, of course, no longer in touch with the murderer, who had fled the scene of the crime in a car belonging to one of his victims. The murderer was caught eleven months later and is now appealing his sentence to die in the electric chair.
In summary it seems clear that during the years of the Hawkins administration students and clients in general, and the blind in particular, have gotten short shrift at the Alabama Institute. Two things happened in the spring of 1989, however, that suggested a change might be in the wind. In May, Calvin Wooten (one of the two blind Trustees) was elected chairman of the board the first blind person to be so honored. But according to the blind, he has remained deaf to their concerns. Staff members at the School for the Blind report that he does not visit the school or talk with them about their problems. He does, however, attend some School for the Deaf football games.
As the situation worsened throughout 1989, the blind of Alabama collected about 250 names on a petition asking the state's governor to remove Mr. Wooten from the board. The signers included virtually everyone who could be considered a leader in the blind community in Alabama. Unanimity among the blind has rarely before existed on any issue in the state, but the governor refused seriously to consider either their request or the underlying crisis that the very existence of two hundred-fifty names on such a petition demonstrated. It goes without saying that NAC did not desecrate the institution or show any visible concern.
Wooten can hardly be blamed for all the difficulties facing the blind at the Institute. After all, he has only chaired the board since May of 1989. Hawkins is clearly much more responsible for the damage to the programs for the blind.
Just about everyone in the blind community was, therefore, delighted to learn that on July 2, 1989, Dr. Hawkins was to resign in order to take the post of Chancellor at Alabama's Troy State University on September 1. In a state with a well-entrenched old-boy network and with an official as tightly tied into that network as Hawkins appears to be, there was no hope of making him accountable for what he had done to damage the Institute or the blind, but at least he would be leaving. Perhaps someone else could be encouraged to assist the blind. So Hawkins was wined and dined. The Alumni Association of the School for the Deaf presented him with a $1,500 set of golf clubs. The AIDB Foundation (the one he had established) bought up the remainder of his country club membership; the new chapel that no one wanted was named after him; and in general he was told what a fine fellow he was and what a wonderful job he had done. The blind, for the most part, remained silent.
Then bits of information began to surface. Alabama has an ethics law with a provision that prevents the president of an institution from influencing the hiring of his wife. It appears, however, to an objective outsider that Hawkins wanted his wife to do some consulting work for the Institute in the Parent-Infant Program. According to some sources, she had been doing the work for years, and it only seemed fair for her to be paid for it. Others maintain that she didn't even begin to earn the salary she was eventually paid. Hawkins apparently dreamed up a scheme which would enable him to funnel some $24,000 of Institute money to his wife through the University of Alabama at Birmingham, an institution with which Mrs. Hawkins had previously been associated. When the story eventually blew open, it was covered by the Daily Home, the local Talladega paper. This is the way the Daily Home reported the story in late September, 1989:
Preuitt [State Senator]: Hawkins Abused Power as AIDB President by Denise Sinclair
Controversy continues to surround former Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind president Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. This time state Senator Jim Preuitt is questioning whether a contract allowing Hawkins' wife Janice to work as a consultant through the University of Alabama at Birmingham is ethical.
Preuitt said Tuesday, He (Hawkins) primarily contracted with the University of Alabama for $24,350 for a part-time job for Mrs. Hawkins. The money was funneled from AIDB to UAB. It may not be illegal, but it sure sounds unethical.
Preuitt said there is no indication the board approved the contract, which ran from June, 1988, to May, 1989.
The contract was a cooperative agreement between AIDB and UAB for the exchange of professional and expert services. It involved the AIDB Parent-Infant Program, which provides quality services to the hearing and visually impaired pre-school child.
According to the contract terms, Mrs. Hawkins developed, promoted, and evaluated the program.
Under the contract, Mrs. Hawkins received $22,000 for consultant services, $1,350 for travel and $1,000 for materials and supplies.
AIDB reimbursed the University of Alabama for the services at a rate of $2,030 per month under the contract. Also, according to the contract, the services were for a two-thirds position.
Hawkins signed the contract for AIDB. Signatures of Mr. Dudley Pewitt, senior vice president for administration at UAB, and Dr. Keith D. Blayney, dean of the School of Health Related Professions, were also on the contract, which was dated May 17, 1988.
Preuitt pointed out that the contract doesn't say Mrs. Hawkins would be the recipient. I do know she paid into the Alabama Retirement System for a salary of $22,000 during that period. I think it was cut and dried. It's a cowardly way to put your wife on the local payroll. I questioned Hawkins about this in January in Montgomery as to whether or not his wife was on the payroll. He said I was getting too personal.
The senator said he had the AIDB minutes researched and there is no authorization by the board for this contract. This is another thing where the public will have less confidence in schools. These misuses of funds are reasons the public will not vote on new taxes. Institutions must be accountable.
Preuitt added, The local legislators have been trying for five years to get redirection of funding at AIDB to children and adults rather than beautification. We did not want to do what we did in Montgomery. But that was the only way we could get Jack Hawkins' attention. We wanted questions answered. Many people thought we were too tough on him at that time.
We've just scratched the surface. There is so much abuse by this (Hawkins) administration. It got to the point where he thought he was above the law.
Rep. Clarence Haynes said he questions the legality of the contract or agreement. I understand the contract was typed at AIDB. This is just another example of mismanagement of funds. We have been trying to correct this for a couple of years. It's one of many incidents that are not right. We've (the local legislative delegation) been outgunned and out written in the newspapers.
AIDB board member Ralph Gaines said he had no knowledge of the agreement between the Institute and the University of Alabama. I've been on the board 2-1/2 years. I don't recall any discussion or board action on this contract between UAB and AIDB, particularly Mrs. Hawkins.
Jim Bosarge, assistant director of University Relations at UAB, said, The consulting agreement was new in 1988. Mrs. Hawkins had maintained a part-time position with UAB since moving to Talladega. She is a long-term employee of UAB since the mid-1970s. The AIDB Field Services Office requested a person for consultation purposes prior to the agreement.
She had been serving AIDB needs on a voluntary basis for several years. They requested more of her time, which led to the consulting agreement.
Bosarge said the University had information from the Ethics Commission regarding Mrs. Hawkins' employment. It's my understanding it was OK for her to consult with AIDB in one of her specialties if it occurred through another institution. She was a part-time employee of UAB. There was no reason for her not being hired as a consultant. No one else in the area had the skills to do the work.
AIDB board chairman Calvin Wooten of Anniston declined comment on the agreement.
The Daily Home was unable Tuesday afternoon to obtain information from the Ethics Commission in Montgomery regarding the matter.
Preuitt and Haynes both stressed they feel strongly about public institutions' being more accountable for citizens' tax dollars and the recent abuses at AIDB point to this fact.
That's what the newspapers were saying, but that was far from all. Alabama also has a law that prevents anyone from buying state property except at auction. The salary and perquisites a tax-free expense account and a mansion with maid, gardener, and utilities bestowed upon Dr. Hawkins by the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind out of funds provided by the state's taxpayers can go a long way in a small southern town, where the cost of living is lower than in most cities; and plenty of people, like the Hawkinses' maid, scrape along on less than $11,000 a year. If the state had provided Dr. Hawkins nothing more, this job would still, by any standard, have been generously (perhaps too generously) remunerative. But apparently Alabama (whether it knew it or not) was prepared to provide the Hawkinses with the use of a kingly array of luxuries in their residence. One state official told the Braille Monitor with disgust that Mrs. Hawkins loved wallpaper more than any woman he had ever seen. Seemed like there was new wallpaper and carpet about every six months.
When the time came to move from Talladega, the Hawkinses apparently couldn't bear to leave behind some of the lovely things the state had purchased. According to Dr. Hawkins, on August 17, 1989, he wrote a check in the amount of $2,781.65 to cover the cost of the items he wished to purchase no doubt appropriately discounted because they were used merchandise. It is clear that Dr. Hawkins knew about the state prohibition on outright purchasing of Alabama property because he had someone from the Institute call the state's Ethics Commission to inquire how a person could legally buy a desk from the state. Probably assuming that the desk in question was an old and beloved memento of years of service, the state official said that if a check were written for the market value of the piece, it would pass muster, or at least no one would probably bother to ask questions. This is the way the Daily Home told the story on September 28, 1989. As you read, ask yourself what happened to the desk in question. Was the initial question asked about a desk simply because it would sound more innocuous that way? Was the desk in question never returned? How many other objects slipped through the cracks? Here is one of the many news stories printed at the time:
by Denise Sinclair
An ethics complaint was filed Tuesday against former Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind president Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. for purchasing furniture and china from the president's mansion.
Tom Mills of Tuscaloosa, a 1981 graduate of AIDB's E. H. Gentry Technical Facility, filed the complaint with the state's Ethics Commission. In his complaint to the Commission, Mills said Hawkins improperly used his position to buy the furniture that belonged to the Institute.
Wayne Hall, assistant chief examiner with the state Examiner of Public Accounts Office, said Wednesday afternoon that state law prohibits such a sale.
State property must be declared surplus property and sold according to the rules and regulations of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Hall said in a telephone interview from Montgomery.
Hawkins resigned from AIDB in the summer to become chancellor of the Troy State University System on September 1.
Before leaving AIDB, Hawkins bought the furniture and china for $2,890. The items had been in the president's home on South Street. The items were a nest of tables, curio cabinet, a set of Lennox China (six place settings), two place settings of Lennox China, a set of queen size bedding, one bed frame, an entertainment center, a butcher block, and one desk.
These items were returned to the mansion Wednesday afternoon, according to an AIDB official, and Hawkins will receive a refund for the items he purchased.
AIDB officials have said they were advised in mid-August by an official of the state examiner of public accounts that the sale would be legal provided Hawkins paid fair market value.
Hall said his office records show the initial contact was made by an AIDB official on Monday. We received a call on Monday from someone at the school concerning the sale of a desk and the proper procedures. The other items were not mentioned, he said.
Ethics Commission director Melvin Cooper would not comment on the complaint, saying state law prohibits him from doing so.
Mills said, I'm not accusing Dr. Hawkins of anything. I'm concerned about the public picture statewide regarding presidents of universities and institutions such as this who spend money on lavish lifestyles instead of education. The voters in this state have a right to put their feet down when it comes to boards of trustees around Alabama who buy things like the entertainment center and china. Bibb County next door to me can't afford textbooks. The public should be incensed by this.
Mills said that until this lavish spending is stopped by presidents of institutions, the public will keep saying no to any additional tax moneys or funds for education.
Until these big educational people quit living lavish lifestyles, education in Alabama will suffer, he concluded.
State Representative Clarence Haynes and Senator Jim Preuitt are calling for an investigation concerning other items that were removed from the president's home before Hawkins left office. The items were returned Sunday. Hawkins said the items were inadvertently packed by movers.
Bibb Thompson with Thompson Company, which moved some of the Hawkins' furniture, said, My company employees only inventory and load what they are told to load by the person or family we are moving.
So said the Daily Home, and a careful reading of this article reveals that the entertainment center, nest of tables, Lennox china, etc., is not all that left Talladega with the Hawkinses. In fact, some who lose no love for Dr. Hawkins suggest that the financial transaction on August 17 provided convenient camouflage for the disappearance of a much longer list of items a list as astonishing for its variety as for its value. But this is only speculation. The facts are clear enough. The Hawkinses have explained and explained that they were both running in and out of the house all day while the movers were there to pack up their possessions. They maintain that they had no idea what was being packed because the movers insisted on wrapping the things they were to move. But the maid reports that Mrs. Hawkins told her to instruct a workman to take down a chandelier for packing, so one suspects that a good deal of planning went into the preparations for moving despite the protestations of the Hawkinses that they never intended to take state property with them.
When the absence of the valuables was noticed, the Hawkinses agreed to return them. Hawkins arranged to bring back the items on a Sunday so that he and members of the board of trustees could go over the inventory list and check off the returned goods. Hawkins just happened to arrive in Talladega Sunday morning instead of Sunday afternoon as agreed. He says he decided to stack the things in the president's mansion just to get them deposited before going to a luncheon engagement. He says he didn't know that the door locks had been changed, which meant that his key (it isn't clear why he still had a key to the mansion at all) didn't fit in the front door. He reports that he then found a side door unlocked, through which he carried the things he was returning. There is now no record of how closely the list of items Hawkins returned resembles the list of those reported as missing one of the objectives that the Institute should have had in mind when it arranged to have its Trustees present when the goods were returned.
A neighbor, however, had noticed someone carrying goods between a van and the house and apparently concluded that the mansion was being burgled. She called Representative Clarence Haynes, who in turn called the police. [It is worth considering why a citizen, seeing such unusual behavior, would not call the police directly. Could it have been fear of tangling personally with the powerful Alabama Institute? If the observer recognized the ex-president, one can hardly blame her for wishing to avoid being pulled into a legal matter.] In any case, the police dashed to the scene to find the esteemed ex-president of the Institute surreptitiously slipping state property back into the house. Perhaps it really was all an unfortunate mistake perhaps. But credulity has its limits somewhere. Here is an excerpt from the Daily Home's account of the story on September 27, 1989:
by Denise Sinclair
TALLADEGA State Representative Clarence Haynes and Senator Jim Preuitt are calling for a full investigation into an incident in which items, pieces of furniture and silver, were taken from the president's mansion at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.
Former AIDB president Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. and several others returned Sunday the items, which were discovered missing following an inventory of the mansion. Hawkins assumed the chancellorship at Troy State University on September 1.
Haynes got a phone call Sunday morning from someone who saw a van parked at the mansion, and thought the residence was being burglarized. Haynes reported it to the Talladega Police Department, who on checking found Hawkins there returning the missing items.
Haynes picks up the story from there. I had zero knowledge of any of this happening before Sunday morning. I received a call that someone had broken into the president's home at AIDB. I don't know who called. I assumed it was someone in the neighborhood who spotted the van. I called the police. The police later called me. I met them there at the home. I was told the Hawkins family had brought some things back from Troy State in a Troy State University van. I understand two weeks ago some AIDB officials had reported a list of items missing from the home after Dr. Hawkins left.
Through business services and controller's office inventory and with the aid of purchase orders, a list of items was put together that were taken from the home. Hawkins was called and ordered to bring the items back. Had it not been for AIDB board member Ralph Gaines, these items probably would not have been returned.
It was reported by other news agencies in the state and in the Daily Home Tuesday afternoon the incident was a misunderstanding according to Gaines and board chairman Calvin Wooten.
In a statement to the Daily Home Tuesday afternoon, Gaines said, The Daily Home has reported I have said there was a 'misunderstanding' regarding recent events involving the president's home at AIDB and some of its contents. I have not communicated with anyone at the Daily Home until I saw this report in the paper.
The only misunderstanding I know of was the time and manner certain items which had been removed were to be returned to the home.
Gaines went on to say that Hawkins had done a good job at AIDB and as a board member he hopes no adverse effects on the Institute, its children, and adults would occur because of this issue. I hope we can continue with the good work that's going on, and I am sorry these things have occurred.
After learning of the incident and not knowing the full story, Haynes asked board Chairman Calvin Wooten, What's going on?
Wooten, Haynes noted, said the items had been inadvertently taken by movers.
Wooten in a telephone conversation Tuesday afternoon called the incident a comedy of errors. He said, Everything has been brought back to the mansion. I knew myself he was coming Sunday. I didn't go into any details with him on returning the items and volunteered to help him if he needed assistance. He said he had it under control. It didn't cross my mind the former president would be accused of breaking into his former home. I contend it was no break-in. All the items are inventoried and everything is back in place.
The representative questions why Hawkins returned to Talladega Sunday morning instead of the appointed time of 3:30 p.m. the same day. He had an appointment with the board at 3:30 Sunday to return the items. I have not talked to him. I do know he and the others went in the house early and put the items back unknown to the current resident, Dr. Erskine Murray. I did not know at the time when I called the police it was Dr. Hawkins. But I want to point out he had no business in that house.
Haynes said that in talking with Wooten, he feels the board chairman wants to cover up the matter. This is the kind of thing that has been going on for years, and this proves what some of us have been trying to point out about the Hawkinses' blatant disregard of the taxpayers' money. I will ask for further investigation by the board into this, and also I want the board to check out the possibility of items bought without purchase orders that are not on the inventory list.
Haynes commended board member Gaines for his effort to do the right thing. He added, I only wish the chairman (Wooten) could see things the way Gaines does.
He concluded, Wooten has tried to shield some of this from the public. It is not right, no matter who it is, to take property that doesn't belong to you. I think people deserve to see the truth good, bad, or indifferent.
Preuitt echoed Haynes' sentiments and said he will call for a full investigation.
From all indications the items were taken from the mansion and moved to Troy. The big question is do these items belong to the school, the state, or the taxpayers, and why would they be moved? The merchandise was asked to be returned.
Hawkins had moved out almost 30 days ago, and he returned with the items Sunday. Why move the items out if they didn't belong to you and then slip them back in? Dr. Murray is living there, and he was not home when this took place. It's wrong. Why take the goods to begin with when they belong to the taxpayers? This warrants a full investigation, Preuitt said.
He, too, thinks a coverup is occurring. They say the movers got the items by mistake. That will not hold water. Most of the merchandise belonged to the Institute and the taxpayers. The movers were directed to move the items. This is not a mistake on the part of the movers, and it deserves being investigated because it is taxpayers' money.
A list of the items returned to the president's home are: one tea set, one ginger jar with base, one dresser, one lamp globe, two entrance rugs, two small round tables (one with marble top), one brown narrow table, two mirror runners, one octagon mirror, four crystal candle holders, one tea pot with two cups, one large Revere bowl, one soup tureen, two glass decanters, one crystal compote;
One china plate, four figurines, one cup and saucer, three silver wine goblets, 12 small Revere bowls, one large brass planter, one cap on the planter, Buttercup silver (22 cocktail forks, eight knives, eight forks, six butter spreaders, eight salad forks, seven tablespoons, one sugar spoon, eight teaspoons, and eight soup spoons), 17 silver napkin rings, one lace table cloth;
One casserole dish in silver holder, one silver wire basket, two oblong silver platters, 18 silver coasters with three holders, three silver trays, one set of blue stoneware, one set flatware, two brass lamps, one side table, one soup tureen, three decorative apples, 41 glass serving plates, one waste basket, one gate leg table, one chandelier, one two-drawer file cabinet, one chaise lounge, one padded headboard with bed accessories, one brass floor lamp, one oak desk, one bookcase, one bedside table, one quilt stand, and one VCR.
There it is as it was reported all over the state at the time. And what about the investigation being conducted by the state's Ethics Commission? From the beginning there was next to no chance that the Commission would find against Jack Hawkins. The Old Boy network in Alabama is alive and well, and the blind are not a part of it. As we go to press in December, the Ethics Commission has found in Hawkins' favor. As one person close to the case, who asked not to be identified said, He may have broken the law, but not the ethics law, so he is exonerated.
This leaves only the police investigation of the Hawkins' purchase of state-owned goods and his removal and return of still other state property. The District Attorney is not saying what he intends to do. The current grand jury is about to stand down, so he may wish to wait until a new one is impaneled. Maybe justice will yet be done, but the blind of Alabama are understandably skeptical. Why should it begin now?
A new president of the Institute was named on November 9, 1989. He is Thomas Bannister, who was the Superintendent of the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind. He was the only one of the five finalists who had any past experience at all with blindness, so (although as we have seen in the case of Hawkins, experience with blindness is not necessarily a proof of rectitude) perhaps the luck of blind people in Alabama has changed. One can only hope but may be pardoned for doubting.
With a united voice the blind of Alabama have called for redress. The governor has ignored them, and Legislators James Preuitt and Clarence Haynes (whose blind mother is an active Federationist) have demanded reform of the Institute to no avail. And where was NAC when questions about the quality of services to blind people were being raised and condemnation of the Institute's president was filling virtually every newspaper in the state? In bed with the establishment, of course, where it always wants to be. In May of 1989 Dennis Hartenstein explained with sanctimonious condescension to a group of blind people that NAC's mission is to improve agencies in the field. If accreditation were to be withdrawn or refused, he asked rhetorically, what incentive would there be for that agency to improve its services to the blind? To which one is driven to reply: What impetus is there now? Alabama has never been a good place for blind people, but its attractiveness has been declining during the past decade. Jack Hawkins is clearly the immediate cause of this sorry state of affairs, but the ultimate responsibility must lie at NAC's door. Whether NAC likes it or not, the general public understands the concept of accreditation to be a way for experts to indicate their approval of an agency's actions and policies. NAC must decide whether it would rather claim that the morally bankrupt activities and policies of the Hawkins administration are outside the purview of its standards or that it has simply been looking the other way in an effort (one supposes) to improve the Institute. Both alternatives are damning, and both are probably, to one degree or another, true.
We will say it once again in case we have been misunderstood. We have no quibble with the concept of accreditation. If it were done with commitment to improving the welfare of blind people, if it reflected society's commonly held notions of legality and ethics, if one could ever see a pattern that suggested blind people were flourishing and growing in competence through the work of accredited agencies, then one could embrace NAC accreditation with enthusiasm. The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and its checkered history under the leadership of Jack Hawkins, is only the latest chapter in the NAC scandal. The corruption at the Alabama Institute demonstrates once again the true degree of NAC's commitment (or lack thereof) to quality service and high principles. When NAC and its agencies cozy up together and claim to be taking care of the blind, the blind lose every time. We will keep fighting for justice in Alabama, as we have so often done before. Through hard experience we have learned that if we who are blind do not fight for ourselves, no one else will do it for us.