Imagine starting every school year not knowing if your child will have a qualified teacher who speaks the same language as him or her. What chance would your child have to succeed? How would their future look?
In 2010, the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador closed the Newfoundland School for the Deaf (NSD) where Deaf children were provided the opportunity to learn, excel and succeed in an environment immersed in their own language, American Sign Language (ASL). The children were placed in mainstream schools and a commitment was made by government to both them and all future deaf students that all services and supports would remain in place.
Our son Carter would turn out to be one of these future Deaf students in 2016. Instead of the promised supports, our son was provided only 1.5 - 2 hrs every 7 school days with a trained Teacher of the Deaf whom he could communicate with and improve his proficiency in ASL. The vast majority of his school day was spent isolated in a mainstream classroom surrounded by classmates and a teacher who could not communicate with him. In this environment, we were told Carter was receiving a "quality education" by a representative of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District. Would any parent of a hearing child be satisfied if their child only received 1.5 - 2 hrs of quality instruction every 7 school days? Of course not, but what is deemed unacceptable for a hearing child is the norm for a Deaf one.
In April 2017, after spending most of his kindergarten year lobbying and advocating the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD) and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) for desperately needed additional supports without any success, we made the faithful decision to file a human rights complaint with the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission. We are fighting for the same things that hearing children are guaranteed and take for granted (and should):
1. Provision of a full time qualified teacher, who can communicate with our son.
2. A teacher who is trained to teach Deaf children and assess our son's progress, weaknesses and strengths.
3. For our son to be in an environment where he is able to have social relationships and form friendships instead of being socially isolated by the barriers of language.
Any parent would want these same things for their children. Our efforts to date have had some successes in obtaining a full time qualified, Teacher of the Deaf with knowledge of ASL for half of Grade 1 and all of Grade 2. Currently, less than one month to the start of school, there is no confirmed teacher in place for our son for the start of Grade 3. How many parents worry each summer about whether their hearing child will have a teacher? That is a burden that only the parents of Deaf children know.
After 4 failed attempts at a mediated settlement with EECD and NLESD over the past 2 years to protect Carter's right to an equitable education to that of hearing children, we feel that we have been forced to elevate our complaint to a formal human rights hearing. This is not a step that we take lightly. Currently, we have spent over $7,000 of our own money in legal fees in the complaint process thus far. We have been advised by our legal counsel that the route of a formal hearing could take 2-4 years and upwards of $50,000 in legal fees. What would do you for your child in this situation?
For us, the choice was simple. We fight for our son and others like him. While he may be no more than a student number to the people entrusted with educating our children, he is very much more important than that. He is important. His future is important. He is more than just a number. He is a bright little boy who likes video games, peach juice and hot dogs. He is typical of hearing boys his age, except they are guaranteed access to a quality education, as a Deaf child our son is not.
This is a fight that goes beyond Carter Churchill. This is also a fight for all the other Deaf children in Newfoundland and Labrador who are currently being deprived of the opportunity to have a quality education equivalent to what hearing children receive. Children like Hailey, 9, and Nate, 8, who received 2 hrs of instruction per day with a trained Teacher of the Deaf instead of the 6 hours that their hearing classmates received in the past school year with their teachers. Children like William, 2, in Labrador who instead of being followed by a Teacher of the Deaf regularly to develop ASL pre-school, sees that person only once every 6 weeks because there is only one trained Teacher of the Deaf to cover the entire area of Labrador.
We need your help for Carter, Hailey, Nate, William and all the current and future Deaf children that will be deprived of an education if the status quo is not changed. We are determined to fight and have the resolve to win. We must. The formal decision in this hearing will impact all current and future Deaf children.
We often think of leaving a legacy and there is no greater legacy than helping a child reach their full potential.