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Churchills take next step in education battle

Carter Churchill’s family is seeking a long and costly hearing in front of the Human Rights Commission to secure a proper education for him and other deaf children across Newfoundland and Labrador.
Carter Churchill’s family is seeking a long and costly hearing in front of the Human Rights Commission to secure a proper education for him and other deaf children across Newfoundland and Labrador. - Contributed photo

Family seeks formal hearing at Human Rights Commission regarding deaf pupil; NLESD said position created to review services and work with teachers

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The Churchill family has decided to go in a new direction to get their child and other deaf children an education.

“As of last Friday, our fourth meeting on this matter, we decided to terminate mediation and go the formal hearing route, which is a bit unusual," Todd Churchill said Wednesday afternoon.
“This will be a lengthy and costly fight.’’ 

Churchill said his lawyer has advised him it could take anywhere from two to four years at a cost of upwards of $50,000.

To get to the full hearing process, the wheels of progress are slow. They have to go through a pre-hearing first and see if it warrants a full human rights trial.

“We have already spent $7,000 to get here and now we will need a lot more to proceed,” he said.

“We have to stick our peg in the sand and dig in for this fight. Our hope is to get a ruling that will not just benefit our son, but all other deaf children in this province.’’

Churchill said his lawyer said they have a good case for discrimination based on the criteria set out by the school district when the School for the Deaf in St. John’s closed in 2010.

At the time of its closure, it was determined that all supports for future deaf students would continue. Over the past nine years the resources have gradually declined and when teachers who are educated in deaf education retire, they are not replaced.

“Carter has no teacher assigned to him for Grade 3 and that is just a few weeks away,’’ Churchill said.

“This is not just about Carter Churchill, but about all deaf students who need resources. There are multiple examples of this across the province and more teachers are required.”

To be a teacher of the deaf, there are only three places in Canada where a teacher can obtain that designation, including Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, York University in Ontario and the University of British Columbia.

Churchill said getting that ruling would set a precedent that families of deaf children anywhere across Canada could use to help secure an education.

They have been lobbying the government for the better part of three years.

Carter was born hearing deficient and with cerebral palsy.

For the past two years, they have worked every angle possible, through the various media, public forums, town hall sessions and others, to bring this issue to the public and have government react and make changes to the system.

Both Carter's mother, Kimberley, and Todd know Carter’s second language is always going to be English … and they are OK with that. What they are not OK with is the fact the government is not making an effort to ensure he is immersed in language to better enhance his education.

The Churchills are feeling the strain, both emotionally and financially, as they hired a lawyer to represent them at the Human Rights Commission hearings.

They have taken a host of questions to the school district and as of today have no answers to those queries. Those questions include: do you want your child to have a friend he/she can communicate with? Do you want a qualified teacher that is trained to assess your child’s progress? And do you want your child to be in an environment where he/she can socialize and make friendships?

Churchill said two of the three questions are intertwined and if more resources were available in the school system, more people would be trained and more fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and in turn there would be more qualified teachers in the system.


Range of services

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District responded Wednesday in an email from Heather May, director of strategic planning, policy and communications.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says the district does not comment on specific situations involving individual students or families.

May said the district delivers a wide range of services provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Education (EECD) for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, depending on their level of hearing loss and whether they have other exceptionalities that require additional supports.

In addition, the district is working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and other Atlantic provinces, on a review of deaf and hard of hearing services to determine how services can be better delivered, and what level of resources is required, May stated.

As a first step, a new position has been created at the district, and the person will work directly with deaf and hard of hearing itinerant teachers throughout the province on improving service delivery.

There are more than 320 deaf children in the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District. The qualified teachers who work with those students are few and far between, and, on the Avalon Peninsula alone, two of the eight retired in June.

Carter was born on Feb. 8, 2011 and spent four weeks in the NICU at the Janeway due to numerous complications at birth. He eventually overcame the complications he was diagnosed with and was released from the Janeway.

In May 2011, he was diagnosed as deaf. To combat this issue, he was given cochlear implants in December 2011, then just a month later (January 2012), he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

To support Carter, the Churchills have become active in various fundraising efforts by local charities and non-profit organizations. There is a Go Fund Me page that has been developed to help them raise funds for this battle.

The link to the GoFundMe page is
https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-carter-churchill-deafchildrenmatter.

samuel.mcneish@thetelegam.com

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