Closure means heartbreak for Peterview family

Province’s School for Deaf will not reopen

Sue Hickey editor@atlanticfarmfocus.ca
Published on August 9, 2010
Once a vibrant asset for students with major hearing impairment, the Newfoundland School for the Deaf is closing this year. Enrollment has declined over the years, with many students taking advantage of new technology such as cochlear implants. However, there are issues that deaf children may encounter when they are mainstreamed into the regular school system, and people like Angela Hibbs of Peterview wonders how her son Roger, who went to NSD, will fare in his new school this September. Gary Hebbard-Transcontinental Media photo

“Profound,” came the tearful voice of Angela Hibbs when asked about the degree of her son Roger’s hearing impairment. The Peterview resident was reacting to the news that the provincial government was closing the Newfoundland School for the Deaf by the end of August.

“Profound,” came the tearful voice of Angela Hibbs when asked about the degree of her son Roger’s hearing impairment.

The Peterview resident was reacting to the news that the provincial government was closing the Newfoundland School for the Deaf by the end of August.

Roger, who will be in Grade 10 in September, had been a student at the school since he was four years old.

Now he will have to study, with the aid of an interpreter, at Botwood Collegiate.

Only four students attended the facility in St. John’s during the last school year; there are 199 students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the province.

Provincial Education Minister Darin King stated government was committed to providing the “best possible educational opportunities” to students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

He added with a major shift in technology, including new cochlear impacts, the time has come for change. As well, the minister stated other major shifts include ways to deliver the best form of education to students who are hearing-impaired, and parental choices to have children remain at home with the necessary supports provided in school.

“This shift is clearly reflected in enrolment at the school. Given these factors, maintaining an empty school is not justifiable,” he stated.

But those explanations are difficult to listen to, according to Ms. Hibbs.

She said the news the school was closing in September this year came as a total surprise to her.

“It’s terrible and hurtful, but what do they care?” she said. “It's not their child or their family that has to go through it. Decisions were made very underhanded and we had no say or no choice. That’s the saddest part of all. My child and his friend Damian have to suffer because the Department of Education and government wanted to save a few dollars.”

 

But they did not hesitate when hearing children wanted to use the Newfoundland School for the Deaf because their school was being fixed or built, added Ms. Hibbs.

She said she was guaranteed in June by Linda Clark, Roger's principal, that the dorm was safe for September.

Ms. Hibbs heard nothing to the contrary, she said, until this past Monday.

She was at work when her supervisor showed her a news website saying they had closed the doors at the Newfoundland School for the Deaf.

“I don't understand it and I never will, but what can we do,” she said. “They don't care and that's the bottom line. Their decision was made months ago, just kept quiet about it so there was no time to do anything about it. They said the numbers have been declining for years; well, sure they have, because they had no intentions of taking in any more deaf children. Roger was the last one as a dorm student.”

Ms. Hibbs doesn’t have an issue with her son going to school at Botwood Collegiate, but she has concerns.

“What are the teenagers going to say, or how they look at him, that worries me the most,” she said. “Roger don't have many friends around here because not many know American Sign Language. I just hope and pray to God that they treat him the same as any hearing person they know. He deserves the same respect as any other person.”

Another voice of dissent regarding the decision to close the Newfoundland School for the Deaf came from Charles Harkins, former principal of the school from 1978-2001.

“It doesn’t work for the child, said Mr. Harkins, “A lot of promises, a lot of words, very little follow-through. Even if you had all the resources in the world, it doesn’t work for some children.

“There are several families who have already sent their children to Ontario. What kind of progress is that? They’re paying, personally, for tuition.”

Assimilating of deaf children into “normal” hearing schools doesn’t always work: even if they have interpreters and understanding teachers, the children doesn’t always fit into the social milieu of the hearing students’ world.

“It does happen and it will happen, not because children are mean, but because the environment isn’t responsive to the deaf child’s needs,” he added.

Of the 199 students with significant hearing loss in the Newfoundland system, 12 of these students receive teaching services in their schools through teachers employed with the Newfoundland School for the Deaf, explained Minister King.

They will continue to access the same full range of services put in place for them by the provincial government, including special education teachers, student assistants, assistive technology, alternate format materials, American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreters, teachers of the deaf, Itinerant teachers of the deaf, and a departmental liaison, he stated.