Ontario Recommends Deaf School Closure. We say no!

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Ontario Recommends Deaf School Closure. We say no!
February 27, 2012

Monday February 27, 2012

The Honourable Dalton McGuinty The Honourable Dwight Duncan
Premier Minister of Finance
Legislative Building 7 Queen’s Park Crescent, 7th floor
Queen’s Park Toronto, Ontario
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

Dear The Honourable Dalton McGuinty, Premier and
The Honourable Dwight Duncan, Minister of Finance

RE: DRUMMOND’S REPORT

On behalf of the CAD, I am writing this open letter regarding Mr. Drummond’s recommendations including the suggested Reform of Provincial Schools. We have received some concerns on these recommendations from Deaf Ontarians about the closure of these Deaf schools in Ontario.

Founded in 1940, the Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada is the national information, research, and community action organization of Deaf people in Canada. We promote and protect the rights, needs, and concerns of those who are linguistically and culturally Deaf.

The decision from the Drummond Report that was submitted to the Government of Ontario is clear in the violation against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that Canada has ratified the treaty in March 2010, which the Government of Ontario is therefore legally and morally bound to respect the UN Convention. This position is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which supports “recognizing and promoting the use of Sign languages” (Article 21, section e); “facilitating the learning of Sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the Deaf community” (Article 24, section 3b), and “ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.” (Article 24, section 3c). That last article means Deaf schools.

For most deaf children and students, that means the Sign language environments and curricula of the four schools in Belleville, London, Milton, and Ottawa (French/LSQ Deaf School) are their best chance to achieve academic and social excellence. All objective research proves conclusively the benefits of teaching in Sign language; if this were not true, why do parents by the thousands enroll even their hearing children in “Baby Sign” classes? Research also proves that Deaf schools are the best places to teach in Sign language. Deaf students who have strong levels of ASL/LSQ early proficiency also attain high levels of English/French literacy.

We in the Deaf community constantly see the long-term results of the campaign against Sign language and Deaf schools: adults who are poorly educated and unable to quality for post-secondary institutions, who are unemployed, who suffer mental health and addiction problems directly related to their lack of real language skills, and who embrace the liberating force of Sign language that was denied to them at an age when it would have been most beneficial for their entire lives. The long-term costs of short-term budget elimination of appropriate Deaf education methods and environments are astronomical. Are you willing to save a few dollars on education, only to spend millions more on poverty, unemployment, and social and health expenses as a consequence of such budget cuts?
The full range of programs provided at the Schools For the Deaf must be fully funded to enable deaf children to obtain education and language skills that will provide them with the opportunities to achieve full citizenship and education (access and completion of a higher level education) and employment (access to labour force participation).

We are aware that Deaf organizations in Ontario, including Canadian Hearing Society (CHS), have in the past provided long lists of recommendations for improving the efficiency and academic achievement levels of Deaf schools. The Ontario Government has never responded to these recommendations, let alone implemented them. Shouldn’t you try improving Deaf education by these means instead of throwing up your hands and quitting on Deaf children by closing their schools?

We note that Mr. Drummond’s numbers are extremely simplistic: “Close 2 schools = save $72 million.” This is absurd and economically fallacious reasoning. He takes no consideration for the costs of providing qualified support services to Deaf students who will be forced to leave the Deaf schools and enroll in local schools. He also seems unaware of the fact that Ontario has never been able to fill all the existing vacancies for qualified support services, so how could you possibly fill an additional 800 vacancies? Mr. Drummond takes no consideration of the fact that, as noted above, most mainstreamed Deaf students will end up on welfare with long-term psychological and linguistic difficulties, whereas ASL/LSQ-supported Deaf students in Deaf schools are more likely to go on to post-secondary education, productive employment, and social integration.

The CAD’s own Executive Director lives in Ottawa and is the father of a Deaf son enrolled in the Belleville school. His son shuttles by inexpensive bus between Belleville and Ottawa so that he is home for weekends. If the Belleville school is closed, the son will be sent to Milton. Then what? The bus trip becomes two all-day trips, depriving him of a full day of school and a full day of home-life each and every week. Or will you charter airplanes to fly 800 residential students out of and into Milton every weekend? How will that save you money? Or will you keep the students in residence on weekends, thus spending all the savings from closing Belleville and London on 24/7 residential supervision, cafeteria service, library and gymnasium services, etc. at Milton? How is this being cost-efficient?

A key reason for financial inefficiencies in the Deaf education system is that Deaf people themselves are not in charge. Rather than close schools, a more effective and less costly alternative is to turn Deaf education over to qualified Deaf professionals. The CAD-ASC recommends establishing an arm’s-length corporation, staffed and administrated at least 80% by Deaf professionals themselves and reporting to the Minister of Education, to manage every aspect of the education of deaf and hard of hearing students in this province. You would not have men running a women’s program; you would not have Caucasians running an ethnicity program; you would not have uneducated people running the Ministry of Education; so why do you have hearing people running the deaf education program? Why do you imagine hearing people are the experts on deafness, rather than deaf people themselves?

We urge the Government of Ontario to reject the specific recommendations from the Drummond’s Report and endorse United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada stands ready to meet with you and with the Minister of Education to discuss these very crucial issues.

Please contact us for a meeting before you make any final decisions regarding the future of Deaf education in Ontario.

Thank you for this attention on this letter.

Sincerely,

Doug Momotiuk
CAD-ASC President

cc: Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations
Colin Allen, President, World Federation of the Deaf
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Yasir Naqvi, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, MPP for Ottawa Centre
Hon. Laurel Broten, Ministry of Education, Ontario
Don Drummond, Chair, Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services
Tim Hudak, Progressive Conservative Leader of Opposition, Ontario
Andrea Horwath, Leader of New Democrats Party, Ontario
Dr. Andrew Parkin, Director General, The Council of Ministers of Education in Canada
Frank Folino, Vice President, Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada
Jim Roots, Executive Director, Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des sourds du Canada
Chris Kenopic, President and CEO, Canadian Hearing Society
Christie Reaume, President, The Association Visual Sign Language of Canada
Michael McGuire, President, Association ontarienne des Sourd(e)s francophones
Jackie Plant, President, Ontario Association of the Deaf
Dean Walker, Executive Director, Ontario Association of the Deaf