Michigan School for the Deaf Fights for CODA Principal

By: Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman

The Michigan School for the Deaf’s students have been calling attention towards their discomfort related to their principal. “We want a Culturally and linguistically appropriate principal,” (a Banner that is hanging at Michigan School for the Deaf) the students are calling for a potential candidate named Rex Vernon to be hired; because the students believe that he is the ideal fit for the school.

Another sign hanging in the school says, “If we have culturally and linguistically [appropriate] principal then they would understand why we yell, bang on the table, and they would be able to understand [students] emotions. We love Rex because he is a CODA, understanding, and he listens to students' voices.”

The current principal, Charles Thomas has refused to meet with students regardless of their requests. There was a meeting booked by students on Monday at 1 PM however Thomas failed to show up to hear the students cases. Jake Zanavich a student at MSD sent Thomas an email and waited while the “courtesy 24 hours” expired and received no answer, a shock coming from a person who is supposed to be on the front lines for engaging with students. Zanavich along with some other students sat down to discuss what to do next since it was clear their requests were being ignored by the principal. They decided on organizing and presenting a peaceful protest to make their issues come to the attention of the administration as a whole. This happened during their lunch period to prevent it from disrupting the flow of normal school activities. Within the span of 10 minutes after the largest banner had been put up it was torn down by Thomas and other staff members who clearly have seen the messages and are now working to quiet the message instead of engaging with the students.   

Golob Stubby, a parent of an attending student at Michigan School for the Deaf shared this statement with the community

Dear Caring MSD and Signing Community Members:

Four people applied for the principal position. One out of the four candidates is considered culturally and linguistically appropriate to be a principal at a deaf school. This person is also the only one that has the credentials to be a principal.

The following are red flags:

1) Declining students MSD’s education because admin is telling school districts and parents the school/class is full

2) Students being kicked out

3) Closing the special-needs program

4) There was no one that was culturally and linguistically appropriate that interviewed the principal candidates. They were all hearing people with no deaf background and no knowledge of signing.

5) The language policy is at risk!

6) Which direction is 0SE heading to? There is no communication and no transparency.

7) This is a big lack of students’ voice being heard. Where is the student body government?

😎 Many more - too numerous to mention

Please contact deputy superintendent: Scott Koenigsknecht to share your concerns at KoenigsknechtS@michigan.gov (email) and

517-335-4092

The Deaf School belongs to the community because we pay state taxes and we deserve to know what the Office of Special Education is heading towards. Deaf children are our future.

Golob Stubby

Zanavich created two videos on his personal Facebook wall to share his thoughts and concerns about the process they had faced. In his second video he proceeds to endorse one of the  potential candidates, Rex Vernon. People in the community are responding with resounding support for Rex and are echoing Jake’s thoughts about which candidate fits best. Zanavich and Lucas Grimm stood in front of news crews to share their concerns and frustrations related to the accessibility that has been available for the students. A vlog was shared after the interviews, Zanavich also made a public statement on his facebook page, “Alumni, parents, children, thank you, you came for us and we love you for that.” Zanavich  

The Deaf Report spoke with Zanavich at length and he had a lot to share, beginning with the level of frustration there is at the school. “Imagine this, I’m Deaf. I do not speak well. If I were to use my “blabbering” to speak to a hearing person, how would they feel? This is just like at our school. Our school administrators speak and we don’t understand them. We don’t know problems or issues. We are tired of it. We want culturally Deaf administration.”

Zanavich also expressed his hope for what could happen from the protest. “At Indiana School for the Deaf, the administrator must be 51% deaf 49% hearing. That’s good. Our goal for this protest is to regain traction to have a deaf administrator. We want them to understand us, our culture, our ways. Modify rules and policies to fit within the cultural norms of our community.”

To share your thoughts and concerns, contact deputy superintendent: Scott Koenigsknecht to share your concerns at KoenigsknechtS@michigan.gov (email) and

517-335-4092