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On June 8th, parents were provided minimal notice of a presentation being made by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) on June 10th about American Sign Language (ASL) opportunities to support our children.
At this presentation, parents were advised that NLESD was proposing to create what was being called an ASL immersive classroom at East Point Elementary for the 2020-2021 school year. This classroom would include various supports such as two teachers of the deaf and hard hearing (DHH), albeit it with no guarantees on their level of ASL proficiency other than stating Superior Level ASL was “preferred” (but not mandatory), and three deaf adults hired in newly proposed positions called sign language assistant.
Many of the discussed supports, such as sign language assistants, were aspirational in nature rather than firm commitments and at the time of the presentation did not have secured funding. Parents were advised that a response as to their child’s participation in this classroom was required by June 16, solely based on this verbal presentation, so that while the program was approved by NLESD, funding could be sought and obtained.
Essentially, parents were being asked to accept, on short notice, an idea or aspirational vision for their children’s education rather than a firm commitment that had secured funding. At the conclusion of the meeting there was limited time provided for questions and answers and no copy of the presentation was given to the parents. Over the next couple of days, we sent additional questions and received responses from the director of DHH by email. We provided our consent for our son to attend by the deadline based on information presented and subsequent questions answered by the director. We included a summary of this information in our response as a method of documenting what was discussed in the absence of having it formally in writing.
The failings of NLESD to provide equitable education for DHH children is further supported by the recent report entitled “The Sounds of Silence” by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.
In response to that email, correspondence was then received from the associate director of education stating that our summary of the information contained several new conditions to our son’s enrolment, when in fact it was factually accurate. It should be noted for clarity that the associate director was not in attendance at the presentation and did not have first-hand knowledge of discussions or questions and answers provided. In response to this dispute over the supports that had been verbally committed versus what the associate director maintains were new conditions, we simply requested that NLESD put the proposed supports for the new classroom formally in writing.
To date, all appeals for this reasonable request have been ignored by the associate director. The only logical explanation for refusing to provide written formal confirmation is that NLESD seeks the ability to remove supports or provide something lesser than what was presented at its own discretion, without parents having the benefit of having these supports committed in writing. This is supported by the fact that the verbally committed sign language assistant positions were actually posted by NLESD as student assistant positions. It should be further noted that during the presentation, the director of DHH was explicit in distinguishing the difference in these positions.
The failings of NLESD to provide equitable education for DHH children is further supported by the recent report entitled “The Sounds of Silence” by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. This failure extends to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which is accountable for the education of the children in this province.
We implore the education minister to instruct NLESD to be transparent with parents of deaf children with regard to this proposed ASL Immersive Classroom by committing to the verbally presented supports for this classroom formally in writing with guarantees on the ASL fluency of the teachers, which is critically important to its success.
We hold the education minister accountable to the people, voters and specifically deaf children of this province for the actions of NLESD that have, to date, led to a deterioration of confidence in the people entrusted with our children’s education.
Todd and Kim Churchill
Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s