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,
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
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
“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
“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.”
One of the schools’ original missions was providing
vocational training. Boyer said in those days the campus was an enclave that
supported the life of Romney.
“We have a building that still designates that it was a
bakery, it was the bakery for the town,” she said. “We have a barn about two
miles from here that supplied milk and all of the dairy products for the town.
We have buildings that still have their markers that were woodworking and shoe
repair shops and things of that nature.”
Cindy Johnson, 250 celebration President, grew up in Romney.
She worked in public schools as a librarian in Mineral
County for 19 years before taking a
job at the schools for deaf and blind.
Johnson has fond memories of learning to swim in the pool on
the campus, and of attending 4H camp there every summer.
“In fact my entire 4H experience county camp was here on
this campus. So that’s something that brings back fond memories,” Johnson said.
4H members stayed in dorms on campus during the cam.
“And down over the hill close to the football field is where
the council circle was,” Johnson said. “So it was wonderful that the
superintendents, plural, at the time opened up the campus for the children of Hampshire
Boyer estimates the schools provide services to about 300
students from birth to age 21 statewide. There are currently about 130 students
As federal regulations have forced local school systems to
meet the needs of students with disabilities, fewer families have chosen to
send their children to Romney. Despite the decline in student numbers, the
school is still the second largest employer in Hampshire
County behind the board of
Boyer, who has been in special education her entire career,
said there is still a need for a place where blind and deaf students have the
opportunity to communicate and socialize with other children like themselves.
“I’ve always worked in counties or districts and I would say
that many times the services are well established in counties, but not
everywhere, and it’s a difficult service to sustain in a county, an
interpreter, the kind of teachers that really understand teaching sign language
and English to a child,” she said. “It sometimes starts off well but then
becomes fragmented because you lose staff that you need.”
Boyer said every state grapples with whether its schools for
the deaf and blind are still relevant. She believes they are because they
provide a unique atmosphere, highly qualified teachers and innovative
technology to prepare these students for college and the world.