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LETTER: One size does not fit all for deaf and hard of hearing children

The now closed School for the Deaf in St. John's.
The now closed School for the Deaf in St. John's.

Boy am I ticked off! We have a premier and MHAs who are more interested in Jimmy Kimmel’s Dildo spin than ensuring equitable education for deaf and hard of hearing children.

Don’t get me wrong, I think what’s happening with Dildo is fantastic; I just think that what’s happening in the field of deaf education is not getting enough attention.

I’ve said this many times, with regard to deaf students, inclusive education is nothing but indiscriminate integration.

A “disability” cannot be integrated, a person is integrated and people are different. A philosophy of inclusion does not take into account individual differences. This is especially true of the deaf population. If one takes the population of deaf and hard of hearing people and places them on the same bell curve of the entire population of Newfoundland and Labrador, you’ll find that there are the same percentage of disabled, average and gifted people per capita. One size does not fit all.

Now when Newfoundland School for the Deaf (NSD) was closed, the government of the day promised that the educational needs of the students who used to attend NSD would be met. They couldn’t possibly meet that promise economically, but they just didn’t care.

They needed to complete their goal of closing all segregated schools.

Why? In my opinion, to pay for the additional bureaucrats hired to implement this ideology as well as maintain it.

I’ve begun research for a book about the history of NSD that I’m trying to write. In that research I discovered that during the 1940s and 1950s the N.L.. government used to send students who were deaf out of the province at a cost of $1,400 per student. They were sent as young as five years old to either the MacKay Centre in Montreal or the School for the Deaf in Halifax, and later to Amherst, N.S.

These children were gone from home for as long as 10 months. They were sent to each institution based on that institution’s ability to accept them. If the institution in Montreal had room for 20 kids, the first 20 names on the list composed by the Department of Education would be sent there; and if Halifax had room for 15 students the next 15 on the list would be sent there.

On at least one occasion, siblings were sent to different institutions based on the quota. There was little consideration for the social or emotional needs of the students or their parents.

Today’s situation is no better. The only difference is that the children must remain with their parents. Which is good for the child’s well-being and family bonds, but does little to ensure the child can fulfill their educational potential.

When NSD was open, the parents of these children were provided with unbiased information about their child’s possibilities. A specifically trained guidance counsellor and Master degree parent teacher provided support and education to the parents as to how to teach their pre-school child language, either through sign or spoken English. That’s been thrown onto the case load of itinerant teachers now. These professionals do not necessarily have the time or expertise to provide that specific service.

Parents today are required to accept the limited information given to them by the Janeway audiological staff, and then go off on their own to let their child sink or swim in an educational system that is not designed to provide for their needs. I am really ticked off about this!

The latest battle the Churchill family is facing now is a formal hearing with the Human Rights Commission. Why? Because of the failed policy of “inclusive education”. Nobody in the department of education accepted the research provided to them by the NSD with regard to the best practices in integration of this population. They considered it to be a tactic to keep our jobs intact. That’s the pot calling the kettle black.

This fight by the Churchills will benefit all parents and children who need to be taught using American Sign Language. I call on all parents who have a child who is deaf or hard of hearing to support them — it’s in their child’s best interest, as well.

Finally, as you know, the Churchill family has established a Go Fund Me campaign to help defray the cost of their formal hearing with the Human Rights Commission (estimated at $50,000).

I encourage all to contribute by logging onto https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-carter-churchill-deafchildrenmatter.

John Reade,
St. John’s


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