MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Summer means a break from distance learning, but school districts across the state are already preparing for fall.

That includes the Minnesota State Academy for The Deaf in Faribault. Students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing come from across the Midwest to learn.

From a student to a teacher, Michele Heise has spent much of her life at the academy. When distance learning began, she knew it would affect her students.

READ MORE: ‘Digital Divide’ Causes Frustrations For Some MN Families Navigating Distance Learning

“They miss the language, they miss the conversation, they miss having people around,” Heise said via an American Sign Language interpreter. “In class you can interact, you have discussions, you can see the language. That’s our culture. We are very expressive. That helps us understand the message.”

One-hundred students from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota go to the school. That meant making sure each and every one had access to Zoom and other programs, says director Anne Grace Donatucci.

“Because signing takes up a lot of bandwidth, we had to make sure that their Wi-Fi was capable of handling the instruction,” Donatucci said via an interpreter.

(credit: CBS)

But Donatucci said the more-than-160-year-old school is designed for in-person learning. While neighbors and even parents may not know American Sign Language, children who come here find others who do.

A third of the students live on campus. If the academy is allowed to have on-campus classes this fall, they believe they have enough living quarters to space students out.

“Are the parents comfortable sending their students here in that atmosphere? Donatucci said. “There’s a lot of questions that are unanswered at this time.”

Some of the students are Deaf and Blind. As they develop a number of contingency plans, they want their message to be heard: Student safety and connections are top priorities.

“There’s so many things that we have that we missed,” Donatucci said. “Those connections with our students and staff are huge.”

Teachers also say requiring students to wear masks in school would take away from learning sign language in an expressive way.

READ MORE: Deaf ASL Interpreters Praised For Delivering Key Messages To Deaf Community During Pandemic

John Lauritsen

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