In 1870, a healthy debate was settled in West Virginia. Charleston in Kanawha county was chosen as the State Capital, and Romney, in Hampshire county, was given as consolation prize the State Schools for the Deaf and Blind. Hampshire county still feels it got the better end of the bargain.
The State Schools, locally referred to as "the institution," were opened for the benefit of white children who were either deaf or blind. The teaching staffs are separate, as are living quarters. In 1921, a similar establishment for the education of the Negro children was opened at Institute in Kanawha county.
In the fall of 1955, these two establishments were merged and continue to operate today in Romney. The facilities of the former WVa. Schools for the Colored Deaf and Blind are currently used by the WVa. Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. The State Schools graciously provided me some information on teachers and students who moved to Romney from Institute, but since most of these would still be living, I will not post those names here.
The institution sits on a 40-acre campus, which contains 10 buildings. The State Schools have a staff ranging from farm workers to the Superintendent. Enrollment breaks down as:
School for the Blind (K-12) has 57 students and 28 professional staff.
School for the Deaf is divided into two sections. The Pre-K to grade 6 division has 47 students and 15 professional staff, while the Grades 7-12 division has 53 students and 22 professional staff.
A separate division serving 24 students who are Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped has 10 professional staff members.
Meanwhile, an off-campus population of 144 students is served by 4 professional staff.
In the early years, the Schools were self-supporting, raising on farms all their produce and running a dairy herd. During the mid-to-late-20th century, the farm lands were taken over by increased facilities and dormitories. Heat was provided to the dorms by means of a steam system, and each evening at 5 p.m., the steam whistle would blow, indicating to their workers -- and the rest of the town! -- quitting time.
Long before it was common, Romney had bells and buzzers which indicated to the blind students when to cross US route 50 or US Rt.28, which intersect in the middle of town. Sheetz, a local chain of 24-hour mini-groceries, has installed a computerized system to make it easier for deaf students to serve customers as well as to place their own orders for food.
Few students at Romney High School graduated without knowing how to fingerspell and sign, without knowing how to approach a deaf or a blind person, or still uncomfortable around these students.
A former student at the High School in Kitzmiller WV reported how eerie it was the first time his school played the deaf team on their own field. The deaf students didn't utter a sound, but instead stamped their feet in unison and in rhythmic patterns instead of cheering. I kept waiting to hear what he had found odd or eerie!
The Institution has always been a good neighbor, hiring locally as much as possible and opening its doors for town functions, such as the Scouting organizations, dance recitals, and rehearsal halls. In the late 1940s, a local combo was popular for miles around; the combo consisted of four hearing players and a blind pianist.
The Superintendent welcomes those seeking additional information about the school or its programs and has provided the following contact information: Office of the Superintendent, West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, 301 East Main Street, Romney, WV 26757. Telephone (304) 822-4801 or Fax (304) 822-3370.