HSDB History

Mr. Kinney, the Superintendent of Schools, arranged to start the school in the rear side of Ka’iulani Elementary School in the Kapālama area. On April 20, 1914, the school was opened and initially named The School for the Defectives. Our first principal was Miss Gertrude Mason of Berkeley, California, was hired as its first teacher to work with five students composed of three deaf, one blind, and one with a cognitive disability.

By 1918, the school has increased to six teachers and 52 students composed of 12 deaf, 8 blind, and 32 with a cognitive disability. In September 1918, the school moved to the five-acre Cecil C. Brown Estate (present-day site of HSDB), which was purchased by the Territory of Hawai’i. The Legislature has appropriated $35,000 for the construction of the school and other buildings. Out of this amount, $8,000 was paid for the estate. During this move, the name of the school has changed to Ho’olana, meaning “to begin a project” in Hawaiian.

In February 1921, the Legislature appropriated funds to construct two dormitory facilities to serve the deaf and blind students from neighboring islands. Funds were also available for a principal’s cottage, another two classroom buildings, a laundry and a janitor’s cottage on the site. When the school reopened in September 1921, students with a cognitive disability were no longer enrolled and the school was renamed to Territorial School for the Deaf and the Blind. Territorial Home for the Feebleminded on the heights of Pearl City was opened for those students with a cognitive disability to enroll. After 1923, the students in neighboring islands started enrolling at the school.

Between 1926 and 1939, the school facilities included two additional dormitories for the deaf, six classrooms in three cottages, an infirmary with six beds, a shop classroom, a laundry, and an administration building. The administration building housed the office, library, dining room, kitchen, and a complete unit that included the dormitory, dining room, recreation room, and classrooms for the blind, all under one roof, located on the side of Lē’ahi Avenue (hence, the current address for the school). In addition to the academic subjects, the school’s curriculum included music for the blind, rhythm for the deaf, shop, homemaking, and physical education. The average enrollment for this period was about 80 deaf and 15 blind students.

In 1949, the name of the school was changed to Diamond Head School for the Deaf and the Blind. It reflected the thinking and attitude of the people and showed great progress from the days when the school was called The School for the Defectives.

During the school year of 1959–1960, an Evaluation Center was established at Royal [Elementary] School as an annex of the Diamond Head School with its purpose to give the new students an opportunity to learn speech and speechreading in a normal setting, and to decide on their eventual school placement based on their abilities in these two skills. The Evaluation Center was then moved to Jefferson Elementary School in the fall of 1961, then moved again to Kāhala Elementary School in 1962, which also assumed the administration back then.

The new building program started in 1960. It replaced the unsafe frames inside the concrete-made buildings. The two new two-story dormitories were completed on February 8, 1962, and dedicated on May 27, 1962. The second increment, the 16-classroom building (known as the current Building B at HSDB), began in December 1962 and completed in March 1964. During the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the school, the date of June 6, 1964 was selected as the dedication date for the new 16-classroom building. A swimming pool was constructed in 1962 by donations made by the Moanalua Lions Club.

In 1964 and 1965, a major outbreak of rubella (German measles) affected approximately twenty thousand children in the United States. As the children in Hawai’i were affected with rubella attained 3–4 years in 1968, the majority enrolled at this school. The five Educational Assistants were hired to assist teachers with necessary, individualized instruction of this group.

In addition to deafness and blindness for these rubella children, evidence of learning process problems also surfaced in later years. Multi-handicapped deaf/blind and German measles were considered as diseases. They did not begin their education at the school due to their multi-handicapped conditions. In addition to the base school program, a federally funded parent awareness training program was developed and implemented to enable the parents to help cope with their unexpected handicapped child. A portion of this training program involved training teachers and parents with cued speech, a communication technique developed to enhance the communication process, especially for the pre-primary and primary students. Essentially, for many years, the school embraced the philosophy of oral communication, which included both speechreading and auditory training. During the early 1950s, gradual efforts were made to formally introduce manual communication (sign language and fingerspelling). Eventually, the focus on the use of sign language was with the Intermediate and High School-aged students while the primary and elementary students were emphasized with aural and oral skills. It was not an easy transition to make since the majority of educators and parents, at that time, felt that using manual communication would inhibit their speech development.

In 1967, the preschool department was established at thre school with nine students.

Around the year of 1969, a method called “Total Communication” slowly made its entry into residential schools throughout the United States. This method, as defined by the Maryland School for the Deaf, “expressed the right of every deaf child to learn to use all forms of communication so that he/she may have the full opportunity to develop language competence at his/her earliest possible age. It included the full spectrum of language modes: child-devised gestures, formal sign language, fingerspelling, speech, speechreading, reading, writing, and the use of any residual hearing through the use of individual and group hearing aids.”

The phonic ear, a high amplification group hearing aid instrument, was introduced at about this time and became a viable supplement to the “Total Communication” program at the school.

On September 2, 1969, the name of the school was changed again, this time to Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind.

In September 1970, the new school cafeteria was completed. The school’s enrollment included 159 deaf and 10 blind students.

In 1971, the first class for the deaf-blind was organized via federal funds. With the addition of this deaf-blind class and subsequent multi-handicapped classes, three additional Educational Assistants were added to the staff.

In 1972, after considerable discussion and deliberation by teachers, parents, and the school administration, the concept of “Total Communication” was officially adopted as the school’s mode of communication for the students.

In 1973, the school reached the peak of its enrollment, at 185 students consisted of 170 deaf, five deaf-blind, and 10 blind students.

In the summer of 1974, to reinforce this practice, under federal funds provided through the state’s Special Education office, a curriculum entitled, “Language Arts Curriculum Guide Incorporating Total Communication”, was developed by a cadre of teachers, administrator, and a parent. In order to fully implement that curriculum, via parent-teacher association support, two positions for speech therapists were appropriated by the Legislature in 1974. At this time, the PTA also advocated the school’s program organization of the first “deaf action” group and the school’s volunteer program. The volunteer function was administered by the Volunteer and Resource Services for the Deaf later. A second counselor position was added to effectively serve the sensory-impaired students. The school curriculum was closely paralleled with the general education curriculum.

Two more positions for speech therapists were added to the school in 1977. These additions enabled the school to help fulfill the requirements of Congressional-enacted Public Law 94-142, “Education Act for the Handicapped.” Another component was essential to fulfill the intent of Public Law 94-142, that of appropriate and timely assessment by trained personnel.

In June 1984, the largest class of 27 students graduated from the school. In September, the enrollment was dropped to only 48 students that consisted of 28 deaf, 11 deaf-blind, and nine blind students. The school was renamed into Hawaii Center for the Sensory Impaired in September as well.

In 1989, Dr. Jane Kelleher Fernandes became the first Deaf woman in the United States to administer the school for the Deaf, which she served for five years as the director of the school.

Dr. Robert Frisina recommended a statewide system of evaluating, monitoring, and tracking on the educational progress for all deaf and hard of hearing students in Hawai’i’s public schools, to be moved into this school. In response to Dr. Frisina’s suggestion, the Board of Education approved the incorporation of the statewide system to be relocated within Hawaii Center for the Sensory Impaired and renamed the site into Statewide Center for Students with Hearing and Visual Impairments in July 1989.

In response to the constituent community of individuals who are deaf and/or blind, the school’s name was changed once again, into Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind in 1995.

Later, on July 1, 2009, the school was renamed to one of the original school names it had in the past, Hawai’i School for the Deaf and the Blind. In the same year, the school started the construction of a new elevator between the two dormitories and a new, plastic playground on the campus.

In the summer of 2016, after the announcement of Principal Christina Juan’s departure, the State of Hawaii Department of Education was seeking for a new administrator to run HSDB. Dr. Angel Ramos became the first Deaf male principal to administer this school for the incoming school year of 2016–2017.

School Name Changes

  • 1914: The School for the Defectives
  • 1918: Ho’olana
  • 1921: Territorial School for the Deaf and the Blind
  • 1949: Diamond Head School for the Deaf and the Blind
  • 1969: Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind
  • 1984: Hawaii Center for the Sensory Impaired
  • 1989: Statewide Center for Students with Hearing and Visual Impairments
  • 1995: Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind
  • 2009: Hawai’i School for the Deaf and the Blind