If the Newfoundland School for the Deaf was closing its doors because it was no longer needed, it would be a cause for celebration.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The Department of Education has been intent on closing the Newfoundland School for the Deaf for many years for ideological and financial reasons.
The ideological reasons are the old debate about integration versus specialized schooling. It's a debate that is interesting in the abstract, but when the discussion turns to specifics about individual children the case for the special school is very strong. This is a debate that has been ongoing for decades.
It continues on unabated because it is true that integration works well for some students. The fallacy is that integration works for all students or that specialized schooling is needed by all students with a hearing loss.
It is also misleading to think that students attending a special school are "segregated" from their peers.
Students at the School for the Deaf were heavily involved in community activities like the drama festival, cadets, science fairs, cardboard boat contests, church activities, athletics, dances etc., but they also had opportunities to socialize and share experiences with those who faced similar challenges.
Many options are needed and the one (or the mix) selected must be chosen because it best meets the needs of the individual student.
An ideal system, like we once had, would also recognize that what a student needs can change over time and that a choice of a service delivery model need not and should not be an unbreakable lifetime commitment and that no service delivery model is inherently good or bad. A service delivery model is only good in so far as it meets the needs of the child and it is bad to the extent that it doesn't.
The School for the Deaf thrived as long as the debate was allowed and encouraged. In the 23 years I was principal, parents were constantly proselytized by advocates of integration. They were also given an opinion by a team of highly qualified educators of the deaf. Sometimes that opinion supported an integrated placement, sometimes not.
The Department of Education has over the past 10 years or so eliminated the voices of those most knowledgeable in the admissions process.
This has been done through unacceptable tactics like intimidation of staff and failing to provide parents and other professionals with opposing points of view. The decision about whether to even offer admission to the School for the Deaf was removed from the school and vested in the Department of Education.
Over the past number of years, parents have been denied admission for their children. They've been provided with one-sided information and they've been made promises that are unrealistic and impossible to meet.
The enrollment at the School for the Deaf has thus been constantly reduced with the ultimate objective of closing the school. The strategy worked. The piper will be paid, however, by the deaf children of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I grieve for them.
Charles Harkins, former principal,
Newfoundland School for the Deaf (1978-2001)