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Letter: Deaf, hard of hearing students being left behind

An article by Louis Power in the Aug. 5th Telegram has prompted me to once again write to you.

Power interviewed Nicole Marsh, a former student at the Newfoundland School for the Deaf (NSD) about the Premier’s Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes. Marsh stated there were 82 recommendations made in the educational report, many related to inclusion, yet “…the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community were completely left out.” 

The education of these students has returned to the situation of the 1950s. The only difference is that the current government is paying for cochlear implants for students who have hearing loss and then placing them in their home school under the guise of inclusion, whereas the Smallwood government shipped them off to Montreal or Halifax.

In 1964, the Smallwood government opened the NSD in Pleasantville. It remained there until 1966 when it moved, temporarily, into the renovated U.S. Air Force Second World War barracks by the Torbay Airport. Twenty-two years later, the new NSD opened on Topsail Road. That was 1987. In 2010, the government of the day closed it and the education of deaf and hard of hearing students returned to the state it had been in 1950 and before.

The Department of Education’s definition and philosophy of inclusive education is given below from their web page, and I’d like to ask some questions.

It defines inclusive education as a philosophy that promotes:

• The right of all students to attend school with their peers, and to receive appropriate and quality programming. Who are the peers of deaf and hard of hearing students?

• A continuum of supports and services in the most appropriate setting (large group, small group, individualized) respecting the dignity of the child. How and when are these “supports and services” delivered to the deaf and hard of hearing student?

• A welcoming school culture where all members of the school community feel they belong, realize their potential, and contribute to the life of the school.

• An atmosphere which respects and values the participation of all members of the school community.

• A school community which celebrates diversity.

• A safe and caring school environment.

These tenets apply to all members of the school community regardless of economic status, gender, racial or religious background, sexual orientation, academic ability or other facet of diversity.

The move towards inclusive education involves refocusing the way individuals perceive the learning environment. Individuals see the classroom as a diverse setting with a variety of students bringing their own unique learning styles, abilities, experiences and backgrounds. An inclusive classroom not only respects these differences but embraces it.

(What is the optimal class size for inclusive education? What is the optimal classroom dimensions for inclusive education?)

While the concept of inclusive education is typically associated with including special needs children in the classroom, this is not an accurate reflection of the Department of Education’s vision. In reality, the goal of inclusive education is that students are included in all aspects of the learning environment, regardless of any facet of diversity. That involves much more than just student placement. It embraces all students and involves everything that happens within the school community: culture, policies and practices.

(How and when is deaf culture presented in an inclusive class? Is American Sign Language available to anyone who requests its use? If so by whom?)

For students with exceptionalities, inclusive education does not mean that every student is required or expected to be in the regular classroom 100 per cent of the time. Some students, whether for medical, academic, social or emotional reasons, need individualized or small group instruction periodically, in order for their needs to be met.

(The building called the Newfoundland School for the Deaf is a specially designed structure to serve the needs of deaf and hard of hearing children. It is currently being under used. We suggest this building could be used to provide the space needed for those deaf and hard of hearing students who need to be removed from the regular classroom for medical, academic, social or emotional reasons. If this is unacceptable, then this building should be used as a community centre for the Deaf Adult Community in Newfoundland.)


John Reade
St. John’s

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