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Fighting for their deaf son's education, parents going to human rights hearing

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-08-15 CBC/Radio-Canada

A Portugal Cove-St. Phillip's family is taking the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District to a formal human rights hearing over concerns that their deaf son is not receiving the same quality of education as others. 

Two years ago the couple filed a human rights complaint against the NLESD, but say it was a waste of time after four failed attempts at mediated settlement. 

"We realized there was not going to be a resolution and we came to the decision that this needed to go into an investigation and full fledged official hearing," said Kimberly Churchill. 

"We want to have full acknowledgement and acceptance that there has been discrimination that has happened with deaf children, in particular our child."

a young man sitting in a field: Carter Churchill's parents are concerned that come September he is not going to have a teacher that is fluent in ASL to help him become more proficient in his own language. © Submitted by Kimberly Churchill Carter Churchill's parents are concerned that come September he is not going to have a teacher that is fluent in ASL to help him become more proficient in his own language.

Churchill said it is not guaranteed that her son is going to have a teacher who is proficient in American Sign Language (ASL), and without an ASL teacher her son does not get to learn his own language and culture. She is afraid that will also lead to poor English skills. 

"I don't know how many hearing parents out there are worrying about whether their child is going to have a teacher in the fall, I know that my husband and I have spent many countless nights not sleeping," she said. 

We don't want our son to ever look back and ask us why we didn't fight for him. - Kimberly Churchill 

Just weeks away from the start of school, she said her son still does not have a teacher. On top of fearing for his education, she worries about his mental health without having someone for support. 

"He is completely isolated and left in a world all to his own with no one to talk to. Unfortunately there are barriers that now exist because of the School for the Deaf closing and our government not putting the supports in place."

a young boy wearing a blue shirt and smiling at the camera: Carter Churchill is going into grade three. © Submitted by Kimberly Churchill Carter Churchill is going into grade three.

NLESD plans new dedicated position

The district said it wouldn't comment on the complaint, but acknowledged the mediation attempts have stopped and said it "will continue to engage in the Human Rights Commission process as required."

In a statement, the district also said the type of resources provided to deaf students vary because every student is assessed differently. 

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said it's working with the district and other Atlantic provinces on the issue. 

"A review is underway to determine how services can be better delivered and the level of resources that are needed," the emailed statement read.

The department also said one of the first steps as part of that review is the creation of a new position within the NLESD which will work directly with deaf and hard of hearing students.

Unsure of when the human rights hearing will start, Churchill said she figures it will cost upward of $50,000, but her son's education — and that of as hundreds of other deaf students across the province — is worth it.

"We don't want our son to ever look back and ask us why we didn't fight for him, or why we didn't try harder," she said, trying to hold back tears.

"We always want to make sure we can tell him that we did everything."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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