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Silence and Solitude: Deaf teacher recounts struggle in Loudoun schools

photoAdonia Smith received notice of her termination on Feb. 22. Times-Mirror Photo/Beverly Denny

Adonia K. Smith stared out the glass door into the forest surrounding her home in Maryland. Her nimble hands, accustomed to sign language, worked together in unison, as an interpreter said aloud the story of Smith’s termination from Loudoun County Public Schools.

“I was speechless. I’m a professional, I’ve worked all my life,” Smith said. “In my 16 years of teaching, my experience with Loudoun County Public Schools has been the worst I’ve ever had.”

Smith began teaching at Frances Hazel Reid Elementary School in Leesburg in the fall of 2007. Smith, who has a doctorate in deaf education, began encountering problems right away.

“From Day 1 I was discriminated against,” Smith told the Times-Mirror. Smith, who was covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, claims that the school denied access to a qualified interpreter on numerous occasions, and that she was also kept in the dark by her superiors.

The ADA is federal legislation that provides equal opportunity in the working environment for people with disabilities. Smith said that her needs were not met.

“After I was hired, no one ever sat me down and talked with me about my ADA accommodations,” Smith said. “We never talked so that myself and my administrators could be on the same page. [The school] neglected to meet my needs and failed to meet ADA requirements, which include access to a quality interpreter.”

According to Smith, she was expected to communicate with employees and superiors via note writing, carrying around a whiteboard and pager, and typing out messages on a laptop. Though frustrated, Smith was beginning to witness a significant improvement in her deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

“The teaching methods that [Smith] used were amazing,” a parent of one of her students said under condition of anonymity. “People came up to me … and told me how amazing [my child’s] transformation was. [The students in Smith’s class] originally would just sit and stare. They didn’t understand anything teachers were showing them. They would not and did not know how to interact with people, deaf or hearing. [People] would tell me that since [Smith] had arrived the children were now talking to each other without being prompted.”

But Smith still had her own issues. What started as a note-writing nuisance, Smith said, swiftly grew into something more ominous and potentially dangerous.

Problems and perseverance
“In the spring of 2008, the school had a fire drill,” Smith said. “At the time, it was just me and my two deaf students in the class. A little bit later, another teacher came in and asked me if I had gone outside for the drill. Basically, everyone left the building, proceeded to do the fire drill, and came back inside, all without telling me or my deaf students. They forgot us.”

By her second year at Hazel Reid, Smith encountered new problems. An increase in students pushed Smith into mainstream classes and she had difficulty in getting quality interpreters. When she asked the school to hire an interpreter for certain events or meetings, she was often not satisfied with their level of expertise.

“Most deaf and hard-of-hearing students prefer and even require the use of American Sign Language,” Smith said. “I was observing interpreters in classes and they had such weak skills. One of the teachers was talking about liquids and gas, and an interpreter interpreted liquid gas as gasoline for a car, thereby not getting the right concept around to these kids.

“That person would be what I considered as not qualified to teach deaf students,” Smith said. “Keep in mind, some of these interpreters have Ph.D.s, but in some cases, those are Ph.D.s in deaf education, not interpreting, which is completely different.”

During her second year, Smith met two other teachers in her program and the three began brainstorming ways to improve their classes. Their teaching immediately began to show positive results.

“[Smith] set up a wonderful team of teachers for the deaf,” another parent, who asked that her name be withheld, told the Times-Mirror. “We were so hopeful when [Hazel Reid] got a new principal that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program would expand and flourish.”

“We challenged the system,” Smith said. “We challenged the status quo, and it was working for my students. Parents would say to me constantly how much of a positive effect they had seen in their child. My colleagues and I brought the school’s problems [regarding the deaf and hard of hearing education program] on the radar, which they did not like.”

December list
The next year, Smith’s third at the school, her two colleagues had been reassigned as itinerant teachers who travel between schools, while Hazel Reid hired a new principal and assistant principle.

“We met with the principal and she was receptive,” a parent of one of Smith’s students told the Times-Mirror. “However, when the year [began] the program was gutted and the team was disbanded and sent to other schools because the hard of hearing teachers were threatened by [Smith’s] superb teaching methods.”

Before the new administrators were brought in, Smith said she had always received positive evaluations. In her third, and ultimately final year, negativity toward Smith began to build, which Smith attributes mostly to administrators at her school.

Smith said that because she often required an interpreter for her work at the school, she was made to feel guilty for costing the school money.

Hazel Reid Principal Brenda Jochems wrote in an e-mail to Smith that was obtained by the Times-Mirror: “Being a Loudoun taxpayer myself, and knowing the financial situations of our school system for next year, I simply can no longer condone an interpreter due to lack of planning and making the appropriate parties aware of the need.”

Smith received another e-mail Nov. 18 telling her to meet with the principal after work Nov. 20. She was scheduled for evaluation on Nov. 19.

“On Nov. 19, I was observed teaching by the assistant principal, who used a student to interpret,” Smith said. “I have a Ph.D. My language level is very different from that of an elementary school student. I felt the observation went very well, but the next day, the principal told me I was on the December list.”

Smith said she felt that due to the scheduled Nov. 20 meeting, the school had established that they were going to let her go prior to the evaluation process.

In LCPS, teachers reach tenure after four years. Before they reach tenure, the school system can simply choose not to renew a teacher’s contract. While a teacher is on the December list she works periodically with her principal to help improve the teacher’s performance. Once the process is complete, the teacher is either taken off the list, or her employment is terminated.

“I asked and asked, but I never got a clear answer as to why I was on that list,” Smith said. “Before you’re put on the list, you’re supposed to have two observations, then sign an evaluation that the administrators type up. But I only received one observation, and no written evaluation. The school knew that it was their last year to get rid of me. And the process I incurred during that time was far from ordinary procedure.”

Per the December list process, Smith met weekly with administrators, going over her lesson plans, but according to Smith, they were never satisfied.
“They kept demanding more and more of me,” Smith said. “As soon as I met their demands, they’d raise the bar higher. It was exhausting, I was so shocked with the system.”

On Feb. 22, 2010, after being out for nearly two weeks due to inclement weather, Smith was formally notified that she would not be rehired at Frances Hazel Reid. She would be allowed to finish the year, and then would be without a position.

Because Smith was terminated in LCPS, she wasn’t allowed to reapply in the county. She attempted to secure employment at Gallaudet University and other locations, but she claims school budgets had been frozen by the time she was terminated by Loudoun’s school system.

Silence in the classroom
Due much in part to the way Smith claimed she was treated by LCPS, a former LCPS American Sign Language teacher resigned from her post to become a full-time interpreter outside the school system.

“I find how this county treats our deaf employees and educates the deaf students enrolled here is not only disturbing but alarming,” the former ASL teacher wrote in her resignation letter, which was obtained by the Times-Mirror. She did not want her name used in this story.

“I have seen my ASL students view interpreters that are supposed to be language models, yet do not hold certification and model incorrect and in many cases, made-up language,” the teacher stated in the letter. “Our deaf students rely on interpreters not only to facilitate communication but also to have full access to the curriculum.”

The former teacher added in her letter that Smith was a tremendous resource to her students, coming in to her class to help on her own time.

Ultimately, Smith claims that she never really had a chance with the new administration.

“All teachers that can hear have full communication access in schools,” Smith said. “I didn’t have this. I couldn’t even say ‘good morning’ to anybody. I couldn’t eat lunch with anyone, because there was nobody to talk to. The school said [in my notification of non-renewal] that I had awful interpersonal skills, but I didn’t have the communicative access to talk to any adults in the building.”

After Smith was let go, the school finally implemented an ASL program, which Smith had fought for since her hiring in 2007.

Other school districts, such as Fairfax County, see the benefits of having deaf and hard-of-hearing teachers in the classroom.

“Deaf teachers can act as positive role models for students, providing them exposure to deaf adults who have become independent, educated and contributing members of the community,” said Susan Bigman, Fairfax County Public Schools manager of Vision and Hearing Services.

According to Bigman, Fairfax has approximately 450 students in the deaf and hard-of-hearing program, whereas Loudoun County has 79, according to LCPS public information officer Wayde Byard.

If measured against total enrollment for each respective county, Fairfax has one in 390 kids in the deaf and hard-of-hearing program, and Loudoun has one in 802 students participating in the program.

“We understand that resources are at a premium and many other deserving programs could also use additional resources,” Bigman said. “It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to bridge the communication gap.”

Loudoun County Public Schools and its employees are legally not allowed to discuss personnel issues, so they weren’t able to comment on the specifics in the case.

“It is not that LCPS is being evasive,” Byard said. “[This story involves] personnel matters that are, by law, required to be kept confidential.”

Now, despite running her own ASL-related business, Smith remains unemployed.


Some comments about Adonia’s teaching skills are inaccurate.  She is a very wonderful teacher who is great with kids.  She has experince with many schools, and her academic training is outstanding.  It is unbleivable that Adonia did not have an interpreter provided to her by LCPS.  Since LCPS has a deaf program, there no excuse for not being aware of Adonia’s accommodations.  Again, she is a very strong and excellent teacher.

Openyourmind, are you sure you are talking about the same Brenda Jochems and FHR as the rest of us?  Not only was she beyond rude to Mrs. Smith, she “destaffed” male teachers to other schools.  Male teachers are a commodity in the elementary setting, and the two teachers who “accepted new positions” (according to her) were great teachers.  Brenda Jochems does NOT care about the students or parents of FHR. This is obvious as she made the descision to get rid of all these great teachers paying no attention to the negative repercussions.  AND, she has not made it better.  She has made it a sterile No Fun Zone environment.  Maybe you should stop in at FHR, and you will see she has lost control! She has to go!

“Adonia is my best friend and one the most wonderful, intelligent, kind-hearted women I know!  She has influenced my life and has made me a better person.  I thank God eberyday that I met her and she has come into my life.  I am appalled and sickened by the way she and her students were discriminated against by LCPS administration!  In this day in age, there is no excuse that she and her students could not be accomodated by being given an interpreter!  At least her students had her, but she was left alone and in the dark!  I pray everyday that she is compensated righttly and juslty for all the hardship she has endured over the past years by LCPS.”

Figured she would get friends to chime in on this and support HER side of the story. Just remember, you only know what she told you, not the other half of the story.

Adonia is my best friend and one the most wonderful, intelligent, kind-hearted women I know!  She has influenced my life and has made me a better person.  I thank God eberyday that I met her and she has come into my life.  I am appalled and sickened by the way she and her students were discriminated against by LCPS administration!  In this day in age, there is no excuse that she and her students could not be accomodated by being given an interpreter!  At least her students had her, but she was left alone and in the dark!  I pray everyday that she is compensated righttly and juslty for all the hardship she has endured over the past years by LCPS.

Sadly this is a one-sided article. For those of you who spend little time in FHR, you need to get the facts. Dr. Smith was known to send her interpreter outside of a room so she could chit chat and have lunch with a teacher. Clearly, if she had to send an interpreter out for privacy, it indicates that one was available to her. Dr. Smith was fired because she couldn’t fulfill her job duties such as writing IEPs which are a basic necessity for these students. As for the admin person that was let go. It was not a case of personal vendetta. The admin person did not complete the work required of her. Yes, she is a great person, and I really like her but we never worked with her. How can we blame her dismissal as an outside person looking in? However, on a few occasions, her inability to keep records had become apparent to those of us whose children were mis-marked on attendance. Brenda Jochems is doing a great job with the school, it’s much better than before. She is consistent, pro-active and honestly cares about the staff. There may be some things we may not care for, but that is true of everyone in that position. Take time to notice the article is one-sided and stop judging until you have all the facts. Take time to volunteer in the school, meet the teachers, staff and Mrs. Jochems, you may actually learn something.

“What are you talking about??? There are MCE systems like SEE1, SEE2, SE, and PSE. Then there is ASL. There is no such thing as an ESL sign language! ESL simply means that English is your 2nd language. Get your facts straight before posting. “

By ESL, I meant English Sign Language. It’s another name for Signed Exact English (SEE), where you sign every word in the sentence instead of short fragments like ASL. In my deaf school (13 years ago), they would say you know ASL or ESL. The deaf sign language instructor who taught me sign language asked me if I wanted to learn ESL or ASL. In NTID at RIT, folks would use the term ESL. Maybe ESL is no longer used these days as it was back in the past.

My facts are straight. They just come in different names that you probably never heard of since you might not have experience in deaf culture. ;)

In response to:

“How do you know he doesn

Wed, Nov 17 at 06:34 AM by Anonymous:


It is a shame that this world do not relize that there are different cultures with different language. I am a hearing woman, and what I have seen a heard about the Deaf communinty make America look like crap. If you go into a class to learn English, you will have a teacher with alot of knowledge on the subject. So, who is better to teach a Deaf child, a Deaf teacher. I hate hearing teachers who are trying to teach ASL and are sending unquilified people out to teach. America need to relize the hard challenges that a Deaf American have to face when it comes to them earing a degree. We hearing people have it much easier and most of the time take it forgranted. Deaf professional have worked much harder to earn a degree, but yet still face discrimnation problems that suppose to be covered by the ADA act. Hearing Americans that do not know a Deaf person story need to either take the time out to learn or stay out of the Deaf community business!

Had Dr. Smith not published her story the deaf children of LCPS would never have had a voice to let this county know that the education they are getting is horrible.  For instance, they are not being taught ASL which they will need to be productive adults in the future.  This is only one failure at FHR.  There is so much to this story that one newspaper can’t possibly hold all the wrongdoings at FHR. Name calling and finger pointing will only help LCPS hide the real mess.

I’m sure that LCPS would not hire someone who did not have sufficient credentials.  I was once told by my old boss that he would rather have an “experienced” person on his team rather than a new person because an “experienced” person is more productive.  From what I’ve experienced, I have worked more in 2 years that one senior person has completed in 5+ years!  I now have a new boss and my old boss is kicking himself because he sees how much work I do compared to his “experienced” person.  As long as the new teacher can show LCPS that he can successfully teach these kids, then what the hell is the big deal?!  I’m sure the school saw things that did not benefit the children overall.  Conclusion of the story:  Do what is best for the children, not for the individual teaching these children, right?!

Lastly, how does Ms. Smith expect to get hired at another school when she goes to the newspaper to complain about her previous employer?  Seriously

“Mr. Simich

All of this complaining is falling on deaf ears.

What Ms. Smith went through at that school was criminal isolation, and the Deaf community cannot stand for this. For many years we have been oppressed and now it is time for all of us to stand together for the benefit of our people and future generations. Our children’s future will become our success story, but without a voice, they will be oppressed the same as we have been.

First, in regards to Ms. Smith not receiving qualified interpreters under the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), she should have received equal access to all communication. For people out there who do not understand: imagine if United Nations (UN) meetings were conducted with the same disregard for people and note-passing was sufficient for communication.  This is laughable. Interpreters are provided for equal access at UN conferences but are not important for our students or teachers? Our Deaf teachers who serve as role models for future generations of Deaf students!! This is blatant discrimination. 

The schools talk about needing to save costs and how cutting interpreters will save money, but the federal government pays for interpreters, taxpayers pay for interpreters and the school is not paying out of their pockets for these services. These services are REQUIRED under the ADA. Deaf education needs to be priority number ONE! Ms. Smith is standing up for our children in the same way Rosa Parks stood up for her people. As Parks said, “I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”

To Whom It May Concern, I am so shocked that there is no STROBE STROBE STROBE and audio alarm at that LCPS School for anyone who is not able to hear. I got an impression that Principals DO NOT CARE ABOUT Deaf and Hard of Hearing kids’ safety issue. ADA Lawyers will look at LCPS and consider it’s a very serious matter about those students’ safety issue due to NO STROBE alarm. OUCH! 
That principal must go now!

Again, I am so shocked that principal used a student to interpret. Is that student supposed to learn or work? That student is supposed to learn, not work. WOW, that student focused to interpret, not learn anything. That principal must be very lazy to hire an ASL- English interpreter to evaluate Adonia Smith’s teaching performance. By the way, I am not surprised that her superb teaching is true. She makes sure that her students’ critical thinking activity is SO ALIVE. Get the vivid picture? 
That principal must go now!

Again, I am very shocked that principal did not make any effort to hire an interpreter for Adonia Smith or other Deaf and Hard of Hearing teachers for teacher-parent conference, meetings, etc. Having an English and ASL interpreter in any meeting is very effective communication. I see why Adonia’s spirit went down at LCPS due to lack of accessible workplace for her. Principal opresses on her easily with her lame excuses. 
That principal must go now!

Deaf Professional like Adonia Smith always fight for students and clients who are Deaf for their rights to have an ASL-English Interpreter, communication devices such as videophones,  strobe alarms, etc at workplace or school for years and years after ADA was born in 1990. Ironically, Deaf people know about ADA, etc but not the principals at LCPS. Oh please! I can see those Principals have a serious social stigma on those smart Deaf and Hard of hearing students and people.
That Principal must go now!

Finally, I do not think Adonia Smith’s legs are crippled at all. I think principals’ at LCPS brains are very crippled.
Those principals must go now!

For Hearing/Deaf/Hard of Hearing Parents with Hearing/Deaf/Hard of Hearing children, ASK LCPS to install the strobe and audio alarm everywhere in school NOW! Make an accessible school for deaf and hard of hearing kids. AND set up a screen for interpreter to pass the test before interpret for your own children. REMEMBER sign for GAS like air, not like gasoline. OUCH!  Technically, Principals are responsible for hiring quality interpreters. Do you want your kids to meet a higher quality education level like hearing kids

Sounds like Mr. Bayrd has been busy this weekend on the phone to the troops.  As usual, LCPS will play dumb and sweep, sweep the facts under the rug!  Unfortunately, these adults will not suffer-only the children we entrust them with.

What if it was your child, Randy?    Smith has a PhD and you apparently don’t (retarded?)-  and looks like you don’t have feelings, either. People are people, regardless of their hearing status.

Jochems is a joke.  She has ruined our school. I am surprised she has not been “let go” herself.

It is truly unbelievable how low some of you on the comment list have been willing to stoop in order to try and discredit a story that has at the heart of it already a very bigoted treatment of a minority professional and more importantly, her students. I know Dr. Smith and have for over 3 years.  I have never met a finer person or a better teacher or anyone who cared more for her students.  Is LCPS so “vulnerable” to criticism that you cannot even explore the possiblity there may be something you need to improve? Makes me wonder what you are trying to hide.

having known the others and very close to the secretary mentioned in a few comments that were “let go” by Mrs. Jochems, Dr. Smith could have done anything and everything Mrs. Jochems asked her to do and even gone above and beyond her expectation and she still would have been let go because there once this principal has decided someone dose not fit into her way of thinking and the look she wants to project to the public there was no changing her mind. Principals have the final say and if she wants you gone you are gone. She would find anything to make sure the persons she was wanting out of “HER” school was not there the next year. Watch out, I know next year there will be many more leaving FHR!

LtmReader.  If you look at the records in the court cases, you will clearly see that an interpreter is listed as one of the parties involved to get notices in the case.  The chances are pretty slim that in Maryland there is a lady with the same name in a case involving a deaf interpreter.  It shows the disposition as a plea agreement and clearly shows a pattern of the violation of protective orders.  There are definitely issues with this lady, and LCPS is restricted by confidentiality from giving their side.  Their legal department would have not signed off on a termination of a deaf employee if there was not solid cause.

I don’t know about this article being one sided. Byard did his usual “confidential” statement.  LCPS had their chance to comment.  Why didn’t Byard comment as to why so few children at LCPS are placed in the deaf and hard of hearing program?  Have all of the deaf and hard of hearing kids flocked to Fairfax? 

By the way Charlie H.  Using the word “crippled” is highly offensive to the DISABLED.  I hope you were just igorant of this fact and didn’t do it intentionally.  To some disabled individuals it is as offensive as using a racist remark.

Wake up Loudoun!

“alleged”?? u guys are so annoying…why would u say alleged u think she lies?? ugghs

The police record argument seems weak.  I’m sure if I typed in your name it would come up too.  Why?  Because you probably have hundreds of people who have the same name—ever thought of that? What proof do you have that it is EXACTLY the same Adonia Smith? Provide the proof and maybe I’ll take a second look.

While this article does seem RATHER one-sided.  It still serves to open up a discussion on the ill treatment that people with disabilities (particularly ones which limit communication) can receive in their workplace.  As a teacher, in a MD county, I know that getting rid of a teacher, when your mind is set on it is not that hard.  Yes, documentation has to be made, but it IS possible.  I think how much easier it can be when one party cannot vouch for themselves because their bridge to communication (providing a qualified interpreter) is burned.  Bottomline: if Smith has an email where the principal blatantly stated that no interpreter would be provided in the future her rights have already been violated (I don’t even want to discuss the fire drill!).  How would you feel showing up at a presentation to find the presenter speaking French and there was no one there to translate?  Most likely you would leave or ask around to see if there was someone translating.  Now imagine Smith’s situation where she had to go to work each day and face those challenges.  She didn’t have the option to just leave.  She was hired to do a job.

In response to:

“After reviewing the court records referenced, it is likely that LCPS terminated her for this record.  Perhaps she did not disclose this during her application.  Clearly not a balanced woman that should be in the schools, deaf or not.”

The school system runs a background check on anyone they are considering to hire. Clearly she wasn’t convicted on any of the charges, or else the background check would have picked up on it. Anyone could be CHARGED with anything; it’s the conviction that matters.

As another poster already pointed out, Adonia Smith has a criminal record.  She has lost all credibility.  Game over.

Loudoun times is a horrible newspaper.  I don’t even know how you can call yourself a true newspaper.  You print stories that can ONLY be one-sided that are slanderous towards others without the ability for them to defend themselves.  There are ALWAYS two sides to a story but your decision to print stories like this ensure that both sides will not be heard.  Principal Jochems and Mary Kearney have made many positive contributions towards the children in Loudoun County.  Why don’t you follow up this story with a story about the contributions they have made?  Why don’t you write a story about the difficult students and difficult parents and difficult staff that they have to put up with day in day out?  Education is often a thankless job.  Being a LCPS staff person, I know how difficult it can be to work with some of the students and i know how difficult it can be working with some of the parents.  Some people are NEVER happy.  But we keep coming back because we believe we can make a difference.  Why don’t you write an article about all the staff members that keep coming back in an effort to make a difference in a child’s life.  Thankfully, Leesburg Today does.

Before you call someone with a PHD a “lazy crippled woman” how about walking a mile in her shoes! Who are you to judge?

After reviewing the court records referenced, it is likely that LCPS terminated her for this record.  Perhaps she did not disclose this during her application.  Clearly not a balanced woman that should be in the schools, deaf or not.

Another smear campaign by this terrible newspaper. LCPS is a great place to work and the only mistake they made was hiring this lazy crippled woman.

Since ADA was born in 1990, It is no excuse for any public system or anyone in Hearing world have the budget ready for providing an interpreter. Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, who wants to have interpreter, always fight for their rights and the next generation of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. Not only that they want an interpreter, Hearing (NON Deaf people) need it for effective communication.  WRITING NOTES consumes our time.  Hearing (NON DEAF people, who do not support to use or provide an interpreter, take A HUGE GRANT TO HEAR ANYTHING and BECOME SO POWERFUL TO ABUSE THE INNNOCENT SYSTEM

I am an ASL/English interpreter, and you would not believe how many doctors offices, businesses, etc. refuse to provide interpreters, blatantly ignoring the ADA.

I hope this article helps the community at large to see how deaf people are barred from communication, even despite the ADA being in place. If you work at a place that denies deaf people their rights to an interpreter, print out the ADA, sections II and III, depending on whether you are a public or private business, and show them to your superiors.

FYI: Doctors offices who refuse to provide an intepreter leave themselves open to a medical malpractice suit.

Mr. Simich’s credentials don’t come close to Dr. Smith’s, nor does he use true ASL.  Yes, in the end the students are the ones who suffer. The fact that no one notified Dr. Smith of the impending fire alarm is pure criminal neglect.  The fact that the email exists that Ms. Jochems was more concerned about her tax dollars than a highly qualified teacher speaks volumes about the principal.  Maybe the way Ms. Jochems wants to protect her tax dollars is “hey, don’t anyone tell the deaf class the building is on fire!”.  Shameful principal and shameful system.

It is ashame that such a highly qualified professional as Ms. Smith would be unfairly dismissed from the Loudoun County School District. The ones who really suffer are the students—as usual.

LCPS violated the law, period. She could not socialize or communicate with teachers, staff, and administrators during lunch hours or in the hallways, and this type of communication is important for a positive work environment. The simple truth is she did not have the same access as other teachers. Shame on you, LCPS!

I’m very sorry that this is happening to Dr. Smith and that it was approached so poorly.

Dr. Smith has a wealth of experience in teaching deaf children and lots of experiences at different schools, Lamar University and others.  She also has her deaf education license, ASL license, and ASLTA Professional certification. With her credentials and experience, she has worked hard. 

Also, in the FHR newsletter (Reid Reporter) last August, Dr. Smith was listed as having left due to enrollment changes. Yet it lists Brian Simich as taking over Dr. Smith’s position. What gives? Does Mr. Simich’s experience and credentials equal Dr. Smith’s? Why couldn’t the school just keep Dr. Smith instead of stating that her departure was due to enrollment changes, which is an obvious lie?

The truth lies with the deaf children who had Dr. Smith, and none of them wanted her to leave.  They could communicate with her.

Here’s some more information:

90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents
90% of deaf children are currently educated in the mainstream setting
90% of teachers of the deaf are hearing

A majority of the teachers of the deaf do not sign American Sign Language but rather signed supported speech.  Here lies the disconnect- this system (signed supported speech) they are educated in is not a language.  The thought is, teaching using signed supported speech is how a deaf child will learn English- unfortunately year after year, deaf students who were education under a system much like LCPS (hearing teachers, signed english, hearing parents-who know some signs) graduate with limited language skills-spoken, signed, or written.  The system (which is not the insular attitude of the Deaf community) has failed time and time again and the methods are not changing.  Some teachers are here just to teach the kids but that translates into the students being forced into an auditory/oral box rather than their education being focused on the whole child.  Deaf children are viewed as problems that need to be fixed.  The children internalize this view which does wonders for their self esteem!  Instead of building on their strengths, their education builds primarily on their weakness- their hearing loss. 

Teachers like Ms. Smith are not against deaf children learning to use their hearing and spoken language skills, however, she supports the whole child view which first gives the child a strong foundation through a whole language. 

The idea continues to be, deaf people just CAN’T do it without hearing people/the hearing way. 

*When in doubt, keep problems swept under the rug where they belong*

To Joe Loudoun;

I dont care about u!! I do support Adonia Smith in deaf community as well. U are so sick and obsessive over her. She is a basic good person and to her students. She has a PhD degree in Deaf Education. U dont have one as her.

Adonia Smith has a police record in Maryland for assault and stalking.  It is public record. Go to http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/inquiry/inquirySearch.jis Click on the box, click on continue, and it opens a new page. Then type in Adonia Smith in the search boxes. Then click on a court case number for details about the case. Adonia is named in SEVEN cases - five as defendant, and two as plaintiff.

yes i agree. I love way who I am. next year im going to Gallaudet get more education. I don’t let people control way i learn. Parent with deaf child and deaf student it their choice to what they need to be successful.

LCPS made me feel so disgusting after she terminated from her school without any specific reason. I think LCPS should get fine $$ for fail to provide some interpreter after Adonia requested many times. Her students look up at her that she can do anything.

Now, she have none reputation to access for her future job because of her PhD??? She have right to apply again no matter what. LCPS should not barrier her at all! All deaf students are starve for their education thru Dr. Adonia Smith as their mentor role!

Mary Kearney and Dr. Hatrick should be fire and barrier them!!! No application for any job position in the USA Since they know nothing about ADA issues!!

Let protest and force Adonia Smith to go back to work again.

When the vast majority of deaf job applicants have a 3rd grade or lower writing level there is a problem.  The school system and Deaf culture’s insular attitude is failing them.

As a deaf person who learned English as a second language (ASL was my first language), I can definitely say that many of the Deaf people who struggle with English did NOT have ASL as their first language until it was almost too late.

Do not make blanket statements about ASL/English. Do your research and you will find that bilingualism has endured as a very successful approach (learning ASL then learning English as a second language) to deaf education. Regardless of educational setting…it’s all about language access.

This article isn’t about that, though. It’s about denying a teacher equal access.

Thank you for this article.  My daughter was a hard of hearing student at LCPS.  She has had hearing issues since the age of 6.  She has undergone multiple surgeries without success.  When she was in elementary school her DOCTOR at Georgetown recommended a hearing aid and that her teacher use an assistive hearing device.  Well a doctor’s letter is not enough for LCPS.  They conducted a “study”.  Basically someone observed her in the classroom for an unspecified lenghth of time.  LCPS basically said her grades were good and she didn’t need the assistive hearing device.  By the time she got to middle school she could not wear the hearing aid but managed.  In high school her grades began to suffer.  I met with LCPS personnel again asking for accomodations- tape recording classes, being able to review other kids notes etc.  Nothing elaborate or costly.  They only thing they allowed was for her to go into classrooms after school to review what teachers had written on their boards.  They also agreed to e-mail her teachers to let them know that she had a hearing issue.  I also asked personnel for contacts within the school district who may be able to offer suggestions for dealing with these issues in LCPS.  I was never given any phone numbers after numerous requests.  I also tried E-mailing and calling numbers at the LCPS web site but got nowhere. They also harrassed us about her missing school for doctor’s appointments and surgeries.  We had to relocate her ear doctor from Johns Hopkins to a local one because LCPS said that she was missing too much school.  LCPS should be investigated for the way that they treat disabled employees and students.  The “specialists” that they have employed (at least the ones that we dealt with) had no knowledge about the needs and difficulties of hard of hearing children.

Deaf power,

Whatever you do, don’t give up.  There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require strong English.  I know a lot of successful deaf working mainstream jobs including a deaf geneticist.  There are also plenty of colleges deaf friendly such as galudet and NTID.  But, please, please, don’t forsake the hearing world.

Ummm sad story allrighty to tell ya i had known hearing world loves to control us as puppet and couldnt be helped from them and tired of hearing world above us as well Jesus will prevail those who did nasty move and i believe we as deaf and handicap are equal to hearing no matter what the hearing are ingorant as they does and Jesus will win and hearing will be loser , believe me just wait till we will be rapture soon as is if hearing have heart not use ur brain washed us thanks God bless america

I agree. It is true our english is weak. I speak in english order use my voice lot. Deaf, hard of hearing, hearing impaired have different ways to learn in English, pse or asl. That why we going to mainstream school get good education and improve reading and writing. We both in deaf and hearing world. it awesome. in the future help us in jobs and family to be both world. In lcps school have wonderful teachers help us to be success. some teacher not doing their job they should be fired. few teachers don’t follow IEP and 504 paper. Parent want to see their child to be success in education and what best for them. we just need support and service. I agree everyone the comment and share their opinion too.

I’m married to someone who is deaf, hired and worked with deaf individuals. 

As was brought up previously, the problem here is a cultural problem.  There is a large subset of people among the deaf that believe strongly that the deaf should not be “mainstreamed” into the hearing world. They feel that ASL should be their first language among other things that I won’t go into.  From the sound of it Adonia Smith is one of those individuals.

The problem with ASL is that it is not English.  It has words borrowed from the English language, but if interpreted word for word it would sound like a four year old is talking to you.  While ASL is an efficient language when used among deaf, outside the deaf world it’s disasterous. Their writing and communication skills are extremely poor which immediately invalidates them for many jobs. I really hate to give an example like this, but if you look at “Deaf powers” post below you will see what I mean.  As a side note, the capital D in the first sentence is significant and represents the Deaf culture.

With that said, there is a flip side to this.  For those deaf not embracing ASL and growing up oral they find themselves not “in” the deaf world but in between the hearing and deaf world.  This can be a lonely place.

Regretfully, there is no easy answer to this although I would personally prefer if ASL was taught later and signed English taught along with writing skills earlier.

The defensive, hostile comments by some of those admitting to be part of the FHR program speak for themselves.  “Methinks [they do] protest too much.”  How collegial and ameniable do you think you would be if you were denied adequate access to communication with your peers,forgotten in fire drills and thwarted in your attempts to advocate for your students?  As to the parents who did not want Dr. Smith’s class for their children, were any of these children profoundly deaf/mute?  I suspect they were hard of hearing and could speak; and their parents wanted a speaking environment for them [or maybe a class that wasn’t being isolated by the Administration.. and forgotten in fire drills!]

I know one mother who actually withdrew her child from school because she could NOT get Dr. Smith as the primary teacher. 

The point is, no one had yet served the needs of the profoundly deaf/mute children at the level Dr. Smith produced; she proved they could learn effectively when given an ASL language skill and a professional role model—key factors that had been previously denied. 

You can hide these students in minor statistics and discredit Dr. Smith in documents about paperwork if you are that mean-spirited, but it won’t change the misguided priorities revealed by what you chose to do.

Interesting comment about the struggle in the deaf and hearing-impaired community about ALS only v. signing while speaking.

Having read the article and the focus on qualified interpreters, is one of the points being made by the subject that she requires an ALS-only interpreter to be present at all interactions between herself and staff/admin/etc?

How does this factor in to budget and staffing decisions, implementation of ADA, etc?

I tend to agree with the sentiment expressed by some here that there is more to this story that needs to be told, and given the fact that personnel matters are confidential, there seems little recourse.

Unless more anonymous sources are interviewed—not necessarily helpful.

Jochems is out of control… I have watched her turn a very nice school into one that I am glad my child will soon be out of.  Not only does she not want a deaf teacher, but she replaced a very dedicated, honest secretary because her weight was, “not the image for a front office”.  Shame on her.  These new, “Power Principals” disgust me. As far as those of you who speak of “PROOF” being needed, what you don’t know is how a principal can manipulate scenarios to obtain his/her proof.  I’ve seen that happen too.  All it takes is a cooperative teacher or 2.  Corruption is everywhere.  Take your blinders off.

Thank you LTM for bringing this important and poignant story forward. Well done.

I hope there’s more review of this program and that the LCPS is kept on its toes and held accountable. Good work.

The Ed & Wayde bloodhounds and apologists are out in full force again, dicrediting at any cost a news story and a teacher. They will never learn…

Oh, “Ed White”, when you go to the bin, make sure there’s enough room for you in there too…

When I looked at the Loudon Times Mirror in my driveway this morning I took it right to the trash because that is where this paper and this article belong.  Teachers and administrators at FHR and LCPS deserve an apology.

“What you don

Sounds like Jochems is just emulating Hatrick!

While I am not sure of the firing process of LCPS, I am sure that Mrs. Jochems had the final decision.  I

I can only imagine the daily stressors that Dr. Smith experienced during that last year of teaching. Thank you for your courage in stepping forward to tell your story.

Its not often that the media dedicates this much attention to the struggles of minority groups. The authors of this article clearly took the time to understand this teacher’s perspective and present it in a manner that is culturally and linguistically appropriate (in other words, no offensive language, such as “hearing impaired” was used in the article).  I would imagine that had the school been more willing to discuss the case, they would have given the school equal space to present their perspective. Kudos to the authors.

Often it only takes 1 negative response to dowmplay thousands of positive ones. This school has turned itself around with the help of the new administration. As educators each day our focus should be on how we can best meet the needs of our children. If you are unable to do this, even after strong guidance is supplied, then teaching may not be the profession for you. As a LCPS employee and teacher at the school mentioned I personally had no problems with Dr. Smith. Professionally she was not great, and it showed day in and day out. There were several parents who fought to not have her as case manager of their D/HH child. Loudoun Times should have interviewed more than the names supplied by Dr. Smith to get a clearer representation of the situation. This a great “fluff poor Dr.Smith article” to derive support from the community. But is generated from many untruths. Our administrators follow the rules to a T, almost to a fault sometimes, and did EVERYTHING by the book. Dr. Smith is aware of this and is using her disability to gain sympathy (similar to how she did when employed). It is shameful and actually brings discredit to the D/HH community in my eyes.

“This is a cultural struggle” (writes “keepproblmsweptundertherug”)
NOW we are getting somewhere.  Yes, I would agree with that comment.  Expanding on that—consider the plight now of Dr. Smith’s students who were not only profoundly deaf (no hearing at all), but were mute.  So, Dr. Smith offered them the window to the world that no one else cared to try—American Sign Language.  And provided a professional capable role model, as well.  So we are not just talking injustice done to Dr. Smith when she was terminated, we are talking about an act of utter cruelty done to the children who were obviously under the same prejudicial, patronizing environment that had failed to engage them before.

hey im Deaf my first language is asl. im grow up in lcps. I graduate in HS last year with service deaf program my gpa 3.6 and on NHS. I know her 2 years nice person. this is really sad. We don’t get interpreter and service what we need to be successful. They try to save money it not happened. We should get equal right. This is not right. she could sue the school. im at college NOVA i didn’t get interpreter for 3 month and failing. i got my refund. i could sue the school also. i know how she feel and other Student. we have fire alarm with flashing extremely loud noise i can heard it. I don’t know why they don’t do that FHR. Never give up. keep try to win.

I think saying that LCPS has plenty of deaf/hh employees is stretching it a bit, especially if the number is less than 10 if we’re talking about teachers who work directly with the students.  Let’s actually break that down, 3 deaf ASL teachers (who work with hearing kids) and 2 deaf/hh teachers in the deaf ed program.  I’m just saying, it’s nothing to brag about. 

Also, regarding the fire alarm issue, the administration at the time apologized repeatedly when the drill occurred without Ms. Smith’s knowledge.  It was routine practice for an admin staff member to alert her right before the drill.  That day the staff member forgot.  If it was indeed Ms. Smith’s responsibility to keep her eye on the little red box that quickly flashes every couple seconds (which would be difficult if she’s maintaining eye contact with her signing students) I doubt the administration would have set up that “human alert system”.  If the school had a system where the overhead lights in the classroom would flash on an off (this occurs in schools for the deaf), then Ms. Smith and her students would have been outside with the rest of the school.

Many (but not all) teachers in that school were uneasy and uncomfortable in Ms. Smith’s presence.  They seemed to be weirded out by her silence and her strong facial expressions when she signed- for those who are unaware of ASL, facial expressions carry important grammatical cues.  Teachers would say she always kept to herself and wasn’t really friendly.  They didn’t know her- they didn’t see her as a person, they saw her as a problem.

Until Ms. Smith’s arrival, the teachers (and Speech Pathologist for the deaf students) at the school used a system called signed supported speech- signing and speaking at the same time.  This is so the deaf and hard of hearing students can be as HEARING as possible.  Why?  To make life easier in a spoken language world and because a deaf person can only TRULY be successful if they speak.  What went on in that school is far deeper than Hatrick, Jochems, or any other player in this saga.

This is a cultural struggle. 

Ms. Smith was not fired because she didn’t test her students or take data correctly, that’s what was put on paper to make her termination legit.  She was fired because she shares the unpopular view that many members of the Deaf community hold- the use of genuine (voice-off) American Sign Language.  That community has been oppressed by people who have the mindset that started the Deaf President Now protests at Gallaudet: “Deaf people are not ready to function in a hearing world”- or perhaps the updated version of that quote would read: Deaf people who choose not to speak CANNOT successfully function in a hearing world.
I would encourage LCPS to come forward with their side, but sadly I really don’t think they care.  So long as they’re not sued, they’re happy to no longer have Ms. Smith working in the county.

The story doesn’t provide that information?  I’m shocked!!

You could just admit you don’t know what happens at LCPS schools.  Because it’s obvious you don’t.

Yeah, if you don’t touch me being stupid I won’t touch the fact that you have no clue what you are talking about concerning fire drills at LCPS.  Good call.

Actually, at many schools, drills are activated using the public announcement system. That’s why I said I wasn’t sure about LCPS. If LCPS did the drill and announced it via the PA system and Ms. Smith didn’t have an interpreter or anyone to notify her - then yeah, this is bad. I don’t know, because the story doesn’t quite provide details about that. Even so, the drill is only the tip of the iceberg here, it seems.

And you, stupid? Not touching that one.

@saddened.  Wow! You sound informed!!? I wonder who you could be?  Maybe you’re one of the people in the piece not named?!? 

It would be terrible if you were named. 

Not that anyone in the program could name you!

I have experienced first-hand LCPS’s deaf ed program. From the outset, it looks like a thriving productive atmosphere. You see the teachers moving their hands to communicate with their students. It looks as though the students are learning.

What you don’t know is that these teachers are under-developed signers who claim to be language models for these children, and the county believes them.

I have witnessed the speech/language pathologist and two of the teachers in the program sign to Ms. Smith and their students phrases that make sense to them in English but make no sense visually when produced on the hands. I have also seen the teachers make up new signs that are “easier for the students.” This is not language. We would not make up English words in our classrooms simply because they are “easier for the students.”

These “professionals” do not want to believe that their signing needs to improve. They refuse to think that their methods may not be working. Ms. Smith challenged them and their methods.

The county also promoted an assistant to become an interpreter several years ago. They saw her moving her hands to communicate with the students and assumed that she was making sense.

What the county didn’t know was that she was doing just that - moving her hands. She too was an under-developed signer.

Ms. Smith challenged her to improve also. She would not.

Change and improvement is never easy, and it always takes someone or something to bring that change about. If the deaf ed program and the administrators at the school had been receptive to Ms. Smith, maybe the students would have been better off.

Regardless of the situation… this story is full of holes. It is one sided and slanted.

You got me.  I’m stupid.  I typed viscious, instead of vicious. No way it was a typo. Darnit.

Every drill I have ever experienced at Frances Hazel Reid has involved the alarms going off along with flashing lights.  How else would the students know it was a drill?  Do they just walk out with no prompting?  Do you think the teacher’s yell out, “Fire Drill!”?  No, the alarms have to be activated, therefore, the flashing lights also go off.

First, it’s “vicious.”  Not “viscious.”

Secondly, as I said: I do not think fire alarms are activated during *drills.* Maybe they do things differently at LCPS. But Ms. Smith’s point was that nobody called her during a DRILL. Even if it was just a drill, this is not equal access and therefore illegal.

The truth is viscious? Interesting. 

Whenever the fire alarms go off, the flashing lights are also activated, no matter how they are activated.  If you had been in any school in Loudoun County, you would know this.

Ms. Smith’s firing took years of documentation.  It was NOT a cost issue.

In response to the part about the visual alerts during a fire - I believe fire alarms aren’t activated during drills. Perhaps I’m wrong, but if this is the case - then “notsomuch” doesn’t know what s/he’s talking about. And AJW has it right: just read the viciousness of the opponents in this discussion. This clearly shows the hostility Ms. Smith faced.

Interesting to note that the comments from those who observed the markedly improved results gained by the deaf children are all in favor of Dr. Smith; those who are negative appear to be focused on Administration and control. 

I have an education degree and 20 years experience in the classroom.  In addition I have been a Faculty Supervisor at a private school.  I’ve also spent three summer sessions in classes at Gallaudet that were taught by deaf teachers using ASL. 

I observed Dr. Smith in the class with her students on several occasions.  She exhibited extraordinary skills.  The students she had been given were those who had been labeled with various learning disabilities in addition to being deaf.  She demonstrated that being deaf was in fact their only “disability.”  The school system had failed them until the time of her instruction. The students’ transformation was remarkable and should have been supported at every level. 

Just reading the vicious language “notsomuch” (an admitted insider)uses in presenting her views tells you how Dr. Smith was treated in LCPS.

Much is said from time to time about retaining and rewarding teachers who obtain results with students. If we are ever going to actually mean that, then now is the time.

If the termination was a cost issue, then let’s look instead at the frequent travel of the Superintendent, some School Board members, Administrators and even Principles.  Surely their expense accounts and perks can be reduced to provide interpreters who know how to convey the difference between gasoline and other kinds of gases in a science class.

Byard is calling out the troops!

There are plenty of deaf employees at LCPS, none of which have had the trouble that poor Dr. Smith has had.  The only thing missing from this piece was the tear that should’ve been rolling down her eye.

Every school has flashing lights that go off when a fire alarm is triggered.  Unless Ms. Smith is blind, which she’s NOT, or had all of her students(she had 2) under the cover of blankets she hasn’t a leg to stand on.

Ms. Smith also had plenty of parents who requested that their children NOT be with her again. 

Ms Smith was unbearable to work with.  She was belligerent, nasty, and uncooperative. She verbally attacked other staff who signed and even attacked presenters that would come in for staff presentations.  It was embarassing, uncomfortable, and juvenille.

She did not test her students or show documentation of her work/progress with them for 3 years.  When December listed and fearing for her job she had to start testing them. Hand holding ensued from staff, administration, and fellow teachers.  She being so capable and being fired unfairly is a desperate sad attempt of someone clearly NOT doing her job.  Her using her disability as an excuse is sickening for those deaf people in the world who are successfull, capable, wonderful intelligent professionals.

She could not properly write IEP’s without help from her fellow teachers.

LCPS had plenty of grounds to fire her.

She was NOT fired b/c she was deaf

Yep, I’m an insider.  I worked with her.  I saw it, I know what happened and I know that the Loudoun Times should have NEVER printed a story that they didn’t investigate fully.

I have a daughter that had a hearing disability and when her aduitory assistance stopped working it took 2 semesters and calls to the Richmond to get it fixed. LCS failed until I took it to the state. She went on to graduate with 3 years of ASL and a knowledge to help those with hearing disabilities.

Many would be shocked at how many schools and public entities blatantly ignore disability laws like the ADA, either because they aren’t aware, don’t care, or think they can get away with it. Second, the fact that so many sources wanted to stay anonymous shows just how deeply rooted the intimidation at LCPS is. It doesn’t mean the story is flawed or biased. Rather, it means people are afraid. Many likely are still tied to the school, through their children or employment or friends.

This is a sad state of affairs, and Ms. Smith should be rehired immediately.

I agree that The Loudoun Times should be ashamed of itself for allowing such a one-sided article to be published, bashing other hard working teachers and professionals, without obtaining further details related to this woman’s termination.  If ample details are not available, then the article should not be published.  This is libel.

This article is crap and Loudoun Times needs to verify their facts before publishing anything!!  The school most likely had grounds to fire her for reasons other than her DISABILITY!  Firing someone for their disability is ILLEGAL…DUH!!!

I am personally aware of a student who had Adonia Smith as a teacher.  We noticed a huge positive transformation in this student not only with her education but in her interaction with others.  Do we neglect a child’s education because they have a disability and it may cost more to educate them?  Some of our greatest achievers have had major disabilities and only through patient and educated teachers do they excell.  Loudoun County worries about the increase in spending but they ignore the needs of the children who learn differently.  Why don’t we pay for those special teachers - we keep giving Dr. Hatrick a raise!  In my book, he is not doing the job or he would be more aware of these issues.

This is crazy. Deaf people are normal human beings just like everyone else. Just because she was not able to talk with her peers, does not mean she should have been fired. You go Adonia for fighting for your position. You deserve so much more. I wish I could help.

My child takes ASL and I believe was taught by the other teacher quoted in this article that left the school system. Sad that she left - she was an amazing teacher and inspired the students. Didn’t realize all this was going on, but it explains a lot. The new teacher that was hired didn’t even bother to show up to meet with parents on back to school night.

“School Districts are unable to fire teachers unless they have substantial amounts of documented PROOF.  Imagine the documentation needed to fire a DEAF teacher. “

How much documentation would you need if the fire drill was an actual fire and the entire class died? Imagine that and get back to me on ADA and IDEA requirements not being met.

I am sure Dr. Hatrick knew nothing about this.  He does not have the time to be involved in EVERY personnel issue like this.  I know personally that the newest principal at Francis Hazel Reid Elementary was out to get anyone she didn’t adore.  She did the same to another staff member.  While I do not doubt that LCPS has some HR problems, I believe in this case the blame sits solely with Principal Jochems!

Unbelievably slanted, one-sided article.  I hope you don’t call yourselves journalists.  This is a smear job.  Funny how you can use anonymous people to support Dr. Smith’s claims but you couldn’t find ONE opposing view?

You couldn’t think of anyway to get to staff/teachers at Frances Hazel Reid and ask them questions regarding Dr. Adonia Smith? You have no problem not using names, I can’t imagine it would’ve been a problem finding people to give you opposing views if you had promised anonymity.

School Districts are unable to fire teachers unless they have substantial amounts of documented PROOF.  Imagine the documentation needed to fire a DEAF teacher.

Shame on you Loudoun Times.

There have to be some things not being told here.  There are 2 sides to every story. I’m sure LCPS cannot release details related to a former employee, so unfortunately we only get 1 side of this one.  Thank you to all the dedicated and caring professionals who impact the lives of the young people in LCPS.

I am completely not surprised that both ADA and IDEA regulations are not being met by a bigoted and arrogant LCPS. It all flows from the top. Ask Mary Kearney and Dr. Hatrick if they believe if firing this teacher was good for the students in LCPS.

Shame on you Dr Hatrick!!!!

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