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Provincial Discrimination

Black and white image of many students & staff on the sides standing in front of the building of SJW steps. In front of the students is a big heart with the words painted on it, “We Love Our School''. Many of the students are signing the ILY handshape in ASL. I am highlighted in a red circle.
Belleville Intelligencer Newspaper, I’m highlighted in red circle

“Provincial & Demonstration schools lodgings are closed indefinitely.”  

Deaf kids come from all over the province attend and live in the residences during the week, and go home on the weekends to learn in provincial schools. In Ontario, the schools are Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf (SJW) in Belleville (my alumni – I was a day student and often stay overnight for sports & activities), Ernest C. Drury School for the Deaf (ECD) in Milton, Robarts School for the Deaf (Robarts) in London, W. Ross McDonald School for the blind and DeafBlind (WRMS) in Brantford. There are Demonstration schools for those who have learning disabilities in those areas that attend these residences. 

Students, staff and parents are fighting the government to open the lodgings that have been safe for the last two years to allow in-person learning. The schools have small class numbers — and zero COVID outbreaks among staff or students. The residences follow social distance rules and students do not share a room. Not all have medically fragile students, as Minister Lecce claimed. 

With the residences closed, the school is not available for out of town students. They have to learn online, some don’t have hybrid learning at this time. Online learning is impossible for students with vision or hearing differences. The space on Zoom restricts language learning – even my non-deaf students recognize that!

This is not a covid debate. This is about how the government makes decisions without consultation and warning. It’s likely the government’s attempt to reduce the student population and eventually close the schools.

30 years ago, our schools were in danger of closing. Once upon a time these schools had thousands of students but the numbers dwindled over the years. These schools are not advertised as most boards have done for municipalities. There are many more factors why the numbers are low.
 * new parents unaware, in no way their faults!
* doctors give misguided opinions to focus on listening and speaking methods, where is language?
* municipality school board keeping “special needs” funds local but used wisely?
* and more.

These schools existed to meet the needs of the students to be educated with others like them both in integrated and in segregated settings to have their personal needs met. They thrive in this environment to learn to advocate for themselves and become self-sufficient members of society. It’s one of few bilingual environments, English and American Sign Language. 

Most public schools do not provide full bilingual learning, some may have an interpreter for a few hours here and there. Many depend on lipreading, listening devices to get through the day – and it’s not 100% full access. Fatigue and behavioral issues occur in mainstream settings without proper support, oftentimes transferred to provincial schools to fix the issue. The issue IS language deprivation, lack of FULL access to language to communicate, to learn, and to thrive. 

Closing provincial and demonstration schools without fixing the issue in the public or Catholic school system is NOT the answer. The government goal is to save a few dollars. It’s actually the opposite, it will cost more when there are not enough ASL consultants, Language Acquisition Support Workers, Educational Assistants and ASL/English interpreters to support them. There are 4000 elementary schools and 900 secondary schools in Ontario! One Deaf, DeafBlind and/or learning disability student in each school? How is closing provincial and demonstration schools helping the students, financially as well?

Honestly it’s no surprise to me that in this day and age, these children have to FIGHT to be educated. I am evident of experiencing both sides of the coin. In 1990, Deaf provincial students finally received full bilingual/bimodal education that I didn’t have at the time. 

I went to public schools without an interpreter, lipreading (30% guessing) my way through. I shared a classroom of 3-5 of Deaf peers in different public schools with a “Teacher of the Deaf” who signed English. There is a difference between signing English (it’s not a real language) and signing in ASL. I went to SJW, it wasn’t until High School I met a Deaf role model teaching me. I have seen and addressed these issues. 

Private schools with residences are still open!?!? If they can do it, why can’t we? Provincial government making this decision is discriminating. It is a violation of their human rights!

So what can you do? Learn more online – watch the news as of late, contact your MPP to get involved and PLEASE sign the petition < click on to sign.

Thank you!

*NOTE: I use the word “Deaf” as an inclusive term for all Deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and late-deafened.”