Getting a proper education for their deaf son, Carter, has been a long and costly battle for Todd and Kimberly Churchill, but they hope there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
Their day in court has finally been set — or rather, their several days in front of a human rights tribunal.
The tribunal has been scheduled to run from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9, along with an extra two days if needed.
Twenty-nine witnesses are expected to give testimony, including people associated with the Department of Education and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD).
The Churchills, who have spent thousands of dollars on lawyers’ fees and filed more than 1,500 pages of documentation, hope the outcome will set a national precedent.
“Fighting a human rights complaint for your child brings you to your breaking point, physically, mentally and financially,” Todd Churchill told SaltWire Network Monday, July 4. “That is likely why many people who file human rights complaints give up when facing an entity with much greater financial and legal resources to grind you down.”
The Churchills began lobbying on behalf of Carter about five years ago when they realized he would get only a few hours of facilitated classroom learning for his entire kindergarten year.
“Just imagine if your child was assigned a teacher who had no fluency in the language and was never even tested for fluency in English,” he said.
One of the main problems is that American Sign Language (ASL) proficiency is not properly tested even in those teachers who are hired on that basis.
In the early grades, kids like Carter are as much learning ASL as they are using it to learn.
Churchill said he has spoken to parents in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who are dealing with the same lack of support.
“Deaf education is a bit of a mess right across the country, because many places have closed their schools for the deaf and mainstreamed kids, like what was done with Carter here,” he said. “So, in this rush to be inclusive, they’ve actually created an exclusive education system.”
When the Newfoundland School for the Deaf was closed in 2010, then-education minister Darin King laid out specific standards and criteria for mainstreaming deaf education.
At the time, the Canadian Hearing Society sent a lengthy letter outlining exactly what was likely to go wrong based on research conducted elsewhere in Canada, including lack of communication, social isolation and bullying.
Churchill says the warnings were ignored, and every single prediction has been borne out for his son.
Churchill says they were disappointed in February when the human rights adjudicator agreed to remove the Department of Education from the hearing, arguing the school district was solely responsible for decisions respecting deaf education.
The government, he said, made the decision to close the Newfoundland School for the Deaf, set policy and standards, and controls funding.
“We were very disappointed that the department was let off the hook on the claim, because we never thought they should have been.”
Ironically, the government initiated plans last fall to dissolve the NLESD and have the Department of Education take over its duties.
It’s not clear if that will have any bearing on the case.
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram