Hon. Darin King
Minister of Education
Department of Education
3rd Floor, West Block
100 Prince Philip Drive
St. John's, NL A1B 4J6
To the Hon. Darin King:
The Deaf Bilingual Coalition would like to express our alarm and deep concern regarding the provincial government's decision to close the Newfoundland and Labrador School for the Deaf – a school that was widely envied as being a well run and successful school in Canada. This decision will have long- term negative consequences on the well being of the Deaf children involved.
We are upset to learn that the Ministry of Education has made the decision to close the school without consulting with the Deaf community in Newfoundland and Labrador, and without consulting with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf.
How could the Ministry of Education make a decision—a decision that displays such a significant level of ignorance--without taking advantage of the tremendous knowledge and experience that the Deaf Community can provide? I find the situation as it exists to be appalling and unacceptable behaviour on the part of members of your ministry.
Deaf Schools are the one type of educational setting where Deaf children can have full access to a natural visual language, American Sign Language. Deaf schools offer students direct access to the curriculum through teachers who are fluent in ASL. At a school for the Deaf, the Deaf child does not have to depend on an interpreter who may or may not be qualified to interpret in an educational setting. At a school for the Deaf, the Deaf child does not have to miss out on what is said in the classroom, which is what typically happens in mainstream settings with hearing teachers and hearing classmates. Last but not least, at a school for the Deaf, the Deaf child does not have to miss out on the spontaneous conversations which occur during and between class periods which are important for the child's healthy self-image and development of social skills. Deaf schools offer accessibility, educational stability and the complete setting which is necessary for the intellectual, psychological and emotional growth of the child. Deaf schools also offer families a wealth of information and resources which would otherwise be difficult for them to obtain.
Deaf children and their families have a right to a full continuum of educational placements. Mainstream schools are only one type of placement. Many Deaf students who have been mainstreamed are harmed linguistically, cognitively and emotionally because the school has not offered full access to the curriculum and the educational environment through teachers, peers, and interpreters in ASL. Artificial code systems such as Signing Exact English are not languages, and teachers or schools that employ such systems are gambling with the development of the Deaf child’s mind. The harm many times doesn’t show up until the child starts to fail or “be failed”. Typically, Deaf children are only able to express their frustrations effectively by around the age of 10, or after. This is too late to reverse the harm that has by then already
I find that very strange is that government believes in the rights of parents when it comes to the practices of auditory therapy, but does not support the rights of parents who prefer that their child be educated using American Sign Language.
I must emphasize that your ministry’s decision to close the school and scatter Deaf children all over the province exactly parallels what was done in harming the aboriginal community. As is well known, members of the Mushuau Innu community were forced to move to locations far from their natural home, the Davis Inlet. That decision was very irresponsible, even inhumane. I am afraid that Ministry of Education is still practising this type of oppression today.
The decision of the Ministry of Education also goes now against international law, due to the Canadian government’s decision to sign the treaty and join the the United Nation Convention on human rights for Deaf people, as it pertains to sign language and as it pertains to the rights of Deaf people as a minority. The Newfoundland and Labrador government is in fact in violation of the agreement which involves the Federal government of Canada.
We strongly recommend that your ministry reverse its decision and that your ministry change its tactics and holds honest and productive meetings with people of the Deaf community, not as tokens but as genuine participants, including Deaf leaders. Deaf people know what's best for Deaf children and their families based on their personal experiences, compared to many professional educators and medical specialists who have no idea what the life of a Deaf person is like. Professional educators and medical specialists have been failing in their roles toward Deaf people for more than a century. They do harm us by their decisions more than they realize. This has to be stopped. It must be stopped.
Your ministry has offended us during a time when we should be celebrating the hard-won victory in obtaining an apology from the International Convention on the Education of the Deaf (ICED). It is very unfortunate that the ministry has performed so horribly in this regard.
If you do not accept and take proper notice of Deaf people's concerns, your ministry will be held accountable for seriously harming the futures of so many Deaf children’s lives.
David K. Kerr
Deaf Bilingual Coalition
cc: Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations
Markku Jokinen, President, World Federation of the Deaf
Rt. Hon, Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
Hon. Michael Ignatieff, Federal Liberal Leader of Official Opposition
Jack Layton, Federal Leader of Canada’s NDP and M.P. Toronto-Danforth
Premier Danny Williams, Newfoundland and Labrador
Yvonne Jones, Liberal Leader of Official Opposition, Newfoundland and Labrador
Lorraine Michael, NDP Leader, Newfoundland and Labrador
Hon. Diane McGifford, The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada
Dr. Andrew Parkin, Director General, The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada
Jim Roots, Executive Director, Canadian Association of the Deaf
Chris Kenopic, President & CEO, The Canadian Hearing Society
Jennifer Sooley, President, Newfoundland and Labrador Association of the Deaf