Failure of Deaf Education as relayed to NLESD Board of Trustees by Todd Churchill Sept. 7, 2019


it was disappointing but not surprising
that your board has rejected our request to present on the topic of deaf
education at your public meeting. To date there has been little appetite or
interest from the Premier right down to school administration level to address
the substantial deficiencies and how deaf education is being delivered in the
province in the wake of the closing of the Newfoundland School for the Deaf in
2010. Ironically this is International Deaf Awareness Month the Newfoundland
School for the Deaf was closed in 2010 by then Minister of Education
Darrin King under the pretext that there were no upcoming enrollments when in
fact referrals to the school were being systematically rejected. This government
sought a justification for closing the school and it slowly and methodically
manufactured one over time the school school was eventually closed despite the
objections of organizations such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of
the Deaf Canadian Association of the Deaf and the Canadian hearing society as
well as from recognized authorities on the subject of deaf education such as
Dr. Barbara O’Day and Jean Leonard former principal of the school for the
Deaf in Ontario and now currently Superintendent of Schools of the Deaf in
Ontario that the closure of the Newfoundland School for the Deaf would result
in academic and social isolation of deaf students in a mainstream setting. The Newfoundland School for the Deaf had been a center of excellence for deaf education
not only within the province but within Atlantic Canada. At the time of the
closing a commitment was made by the provincial government that all current
and future students would be provided the same level supports that existed at
the Newfoundland School for the Deaf. These previously available supports included
an academic setting in an American Sign Language or ASL immersive environment,
deaf peer socialization and exposure and fostering of Deaf culture through
mentoring with deaf adults. These are not new ideas they are internationally
recognized principles ironically in the March prior to the closure of the school
Canada along with most of the international community ratified the UN
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which includes article 24
that outlines the importance of these types of supports for deaf children.
While some of the children who were mainstreamed from the Newfoundland school
for the Deaf in 2010 did receive some of the committed support,
over the past nine years the services and supports that were initially committed at
time of the closure have slowly dwindled. The decentralization of the limited
resources ensure the few deaf children received the same support they would
have had at the Newfoundland School of the Deaf. The loss of resources through
attrition and a lack of proactive succession planning to ensure that new
resources were constantly being recruited and trained into the system has
compounded that problem. The promised support has now resulted in most
children receiving token levels of support from too few resources. While
hearing children receive a full day of quality instruction with a teacher who
can communicate with them many deaf children receive only two hours or less
per day with a qualified deaf and hard-of-hearing teacher sometimes as
little as two hours per week. In this limited time the deaf child must learn
to develop his or her language as well as the regular curriculum. School
administrators and district officials often promote the use of adaptive
technologies such as iPads in lieu of actually developing proficiency in
American Sign Language. The ignorance of district professionals to suggest giving
any child an iPad as a primary source of learning a language is astounding. The
promoted use of an iPad is erroneously predicated on the assumption that a deaf
child is able to learn a second language English without having proficiency in
his or her first language ASL. The Spring before a deaf child starts school there
is a typically an individual Student Support Program meeting held at the
school where he or she will attend. Parents who are trusting and even naive
that the education system will provide sufficient supports for their deaf child
to get an education are bombarded with impressive sounding acronyms and terms
such as IRT, AVT and Itinerant teacher of the Deaf. The reality is the actual
support is 45 minutes a week with this person or one hour with that person.
This support amounts to nothing more than tokenism from an education system
managed with District and Department officials with little to no knowledge of
deaf education. The actual support falls far short of the commitment made when
the School of the Deaf was closed that all supports would remain the same. Those
in government like many others who are largely ignorant about
technology of cochlear implants appear to have rationalized that such support
would not be needed and this technology had cured deafness. The reality of CI’s is
that while the technology gives the user access to sound even in individuals when
the devices work at optimum levels the sound quality is very mechanical and
often can leave the user overwhelmed in environments when multiple different
conversations or noises are present. CI’s have not cure deafness or diminish the
importance of learning ASL. To compound the academic problems individual deaf
children are placed in mainstream classrooms with all hearing children who
have no ability to communicate with the deaf child which ensures that deaf child
is completely isolated socially. In a current society there is an ever
increasing emphasis on mental health but no one within the education system seems
to appreciate the adverse and long-term effects of the institutionalized social
isolation imposed upon deaf children in schools develop for hearing children and
a curriculum designed for English children in a hearing culture. In our
province there is a French curriculum this is not a translation of the English
curriculum is a curriculum with the French language and French culture at
its centre. These are a given for Canadian English and French hearing
children but not for deaf children who communicate with ASL. I am not sure what
is more egregious the fact that deaf children are being deprived of an
education, language and identity or that the very people who have been entrusted
by parents with their children’s education from the Premier, Minister of
Education, Senior management of the Department and District, School Board
Trustees and school level administration are perpetuating the problem either
directly limiting the available resources or indirectly by inaction to
holistically resolve a problem they all know exists. While some deaf children may
receive additional supports in the district as a reactive response because
of the persistent advocating on the part of their parents, generally deaf children
are being pushed through a system academically struggling and socially
isolated by a government condone inclusion model that is ill-conceived,
poorly resourced and anything but inclusive. Government has an affinity for
the word inclusive. It makes for a great talking point when discussing how
children with exceptionalities will receive an education.
The issue is that government doesn’t understand what true inclusion means.
Government defines inclusion as the child is physically located in a
mainstream classroom whether the child is actually succeeding academically or
socially does not appear to be a factor. The main focus is to push the child from
grade to grade and eventually out of the public school system regardless of
whether the child is adequately educated. This is how the Department of Education
and Early Childhood Development defines a quality education for a deaf child.
That’s how I define the educational system that is failing some of the most
vulnerable children. Eventually deaf children who are poorly supported in
mainstream schools will graduate and go on to be adults with substandard
education resulting in limited employment opportunities and poor
success in life. Society will judge these people for their failure to succeed
because they are deaf rather than as a byproduct of an education system that
failed them as children. No child, hearing or deaf, can’t succeed as an adult without an education. I can only envision that one day perhaps
in 30 to 40 years from now a Canadian Prime Minister will make a heartfelt and
tearful public apology through former deaf students across Canada were
deprived of the right to an equitable education their language and culture
just as indigenous children were under another misguided program
initiated by policy makers who were completely ignorant of the language and
culture of the very children whose futures they were deciding. I will not
wait for 30 to 40 years to pass for deaf children to hope to receive a belated
apology and social justice that can never replace the enormous impact on
their lives and lost years. You are elected officials entrusted with our
children’s education and have an obligation to ensure that all children,
hearing or deaf, receive the same opportunity to an equitable education in
an environment free from social isolation and that children’s futures
are put a head of political expediency and propping up ill-conceived and
failing policies. Those who sit on the sidelines behind closed door sessions
like this one and do nothing about the substantial deficiencies in
deaf education are betraying the futures of all children entrusted to
their care. In this regard you should look at
yourselves as complete failures because deaf children matter.

1 thought on “Failure of Deaf Education as relayed to NLESD Board of Trustees by Todd Churchill Sept. 7, 2019”

  1. I am so very upset with this situation. I have been profoundly deaf in my right ear since I was 5. Back in the 50’s there was nothing for me and I struggled throughout my elementary, high school and University. I missed a lot of information during this time. I did not have a hearing aid until I was 25 and it was a serious revelation. I can not imagine what it is like to sit in a class room and not be able to communicate to anyone in the room. Are they supposed to lip read the teacher. Now, lets not forget that most time the teacher is writing notes on the board. Even if the child could possibly read lips, how in heavens name can they do that when the teacher is facing the board? It would be a shear miracle for any of these students to receive all the information in all the classes they attend during a school year. It would be impossible for them to even absorb 50% of the information. This is such a blatant example of thoughtless people both in government and School Boards to subject any student to this kind of treatment. It is completely unacceptable.

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