Founded in 1854 in Jackson, the Mississippi School for the Deaf (MSD) educates hearing-impaired children from prekindergarten through twelfth grade. As early as 1829, the state provided grants-in-aid for deaf children to attend special schools outside the state and occasionally paid tutors to educate individual deaf children. In 1854 the state founded the Mississippi Institution for the Deaf and Dumb (renamed the Mississippi School for the Deaf in 1924), but low salaries made faculty recruitment and retention difficult, and the school closed after operating for less than a year. The school reopened in 1857 with a larger budget and moved from its original location across the street from the governor’s mansion to a tract of land just west of the Jackson city limits.
When Mississippi joined the Confederacy, the school closed and became a military hospital. In 1863 the facility burned to the ground, and the fire consumed the school’s records. In the chaotic aftermath of the war, deaf children in Mississippi again received grants-in-aid to attend schools outside the state, and the school in Mississippi did not reopen until late 1871, when it was located in a new facility on North State Street in Jackson.
For a century after the Civil War, MSD suffered from the state’s endemic poverty and deplorable public health. Outbreaks of yellow fever, measles, and other illnesses frequently shortened school terms, and the Great Depression exacerbated MSD’s funding crisis. As late as 1944, Mississippi’s per-capita funding for deaf education amounted to less than half the national average, and even the allocations of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and other Deep South states dwarfed that of Mississippi. Poor funding made hiring qualified teachers difficult, and MSD’s curriculum remained primarily vocational well into the twentieth century.
A small number of deaf African Americans began attending MSD in the 1870s. Before the state built a separate facility, black students apparently attended classes in the same rooms with the same instructors as white students but studied at different hours of the day. In 1882 the state converted the facility on North State Street into a separate facility for African American students. Administrators referred to the tract of land as “the farm,” and the male students living there raised crops and livestock; black female students learned domestic skills such as sewing, cooking, washing, and ironing.
In the 1950s MSD began to expand and modernize. The state opened a new multibuilding facility in Jackson’s Eastover neighborhood in 1951. The complex, which included nine buildings when it opened, allowed MSD to serve more students. After desegregating, MSD not only greatly improved the opportunities for the state’s African American deaf population but also secured full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
MSD now offers an elementary school, which serves children through sixth grade, and secondary school, which offers grades seven through twelve. Specialized curricula track students’ progress according to individual goals. Elementary school students learn American Sign Language and written English and meet individualized goals in language arts, math, science, social studies, and physical education. Secondary school students can choose to pursue a high school diploma, an occupational diploma, or a certificate of life skills. Both elementary and secondary school students participate in extracurricular activities and school clubs, and MSD competes in four sports sanctioned by the Mississippi High School Athletic Association: football, basketball, track, and volleyball.
- Robert S. Brown, History of the Mississippi School for the Deaf (1954)
- Mississippi School for the Deaf Handbook (2007)
- Mississippi School for the Deaf website, www.msd.k12.ms.us