|By Cecilia Mason, WV Public Broadcasting 3/30/2012
Romney is celebrating its 250th birthday this year and for 142 of those years the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind played a role in the town’s history.
West Virginia was only seven years old when the state legislature decided to create a school for deaf and blind students.
“It was the nature of the time to think of those areas of sensory loss, if you will, as needing some specialized instruction and vocational training, so almost every state had a school for the deaf and the blind. Sometimes they were separate, sometimes they were together,” Lynn Boyer, superintendent, said.
When West Virginia was part of Virginia; students went to Virginia’s school for the deaf and blind in Staunton, VA, but when West Virginia broke away in 1863 students lost access.
“Persons who were interested in this approached the legislature when it was in Wheeling and actually went to establish a school for the blind only but at the last minute the legislature insisted that it be for both blind and deaf students,” Boyer said. “And that is how it was and that has continued over the years.”
Romney competed for the school with Parkersburg and Clarksburg.
Local historian and lawyer Royce Saville said because folks in Romney offered to donate land with a building that had previously housed a school, the Romney Classical Institute, the legislature selected Romney.
Saville said the school is an important part of Romney’s history.
“Because of the number of people it hired, the number of students here, the fact that the students have always been a very important part of the community, they’ve been very well accepted here for many years,” he said.
“The only problem now is not that many people send their children for the specialized education that they could get here,” Saville said. “I think if they knew how beneficial it would be to their children more people would take advantage of this.”
The first class started on September 29th 1870 with 25 deaf students and five blind students. Boyer said the deaf students have always outnumbered the blind at the school probably because their main form of communication is American Sign Language.
“The children who come here, you can see it in their faces how thrilled they are to be in a place where everyone speaks their language,” she said. “It’s quite something to see, actually. I think that’s mostly actually why we have more deaf and hard of hearing students than we do blind.”
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