The decision to close the province’s only deaf school is one of Government’s latest major decisions, and like most major decisions, they are usually met with controversy, and this latest decision is no different.
It’s has to be challenging for a hearing individual to comprehend the full impact of living in a world of silence…the things the hearing public take for granted.
There are close to 200 deaf children in this province. Yet, there aren’t any new enrolments in the Newfoundland School for the Deaf (NSD), which has been in operation since 1964.
The question is, why did enrolment drop off so drastically? Was it because parents wanted their children to attend school with hearing children (also known as mainstreaming) or is it because parents weren’t encouraged anymore to take advantage of the residential school that offered a deaf culture in a specialized environment?
There something about the NSD, and those who attended the school over the years, that exuded more of an artistic approach, rather than strictly attending to a special need in a disability-type environment.
Sign language is an amazing communication tool; it draws out the creative and imagination side of people. Not unlike learning a foreign spoken language, it’s admirable and many would love to learn it whether they are hearing or deaf.
Maybe parents of, and, deaf children were discouraged because some sort of stigma might have been associated with the residential school, but maybe there was no stigma at all and the encouragement to enroll deaf children lessened because it was less costly for government to have them blend in with hearing children rather than keep a specialized school running.
Yes, there have been new and great advances in technology that provides great learning aids to the hearing impaired, and no doubt that has contributed to the decline in enrolment. But not all deaf children can avail of these aids or are candidates for these aids.
The Minister of Education assures there will be no decrease in service for deaf or hearing impaired students, but is that really possible?
Consider the declining enrollments in schools throughout the province, can we really expect to have specialized teaching for one or two deaf children who happen to be in a rural school in a small outport?
A former resident/student of the NSD, Nicole Marsh, wrote a lengthy and very moving account of her life as deaf child going through school (as far as grade six) with hearing classmates.
These are her words, “I know how it feels to be the only deaf person in a school, and how isolating it is. Knowing that you’re the only one in the school, and not knowing others that are going through the same thing as you. There’s being alone, and a whole different kind of loneliness when you’re in a crowd, not being able to fit in.”
She wrote this in 2007, after having six successful years at NSD. The writing was a plea to government; a government who had assured the school would remain open. Here is more of what she wrote:
“My biggest concern is NSD remaining open. I know that it’s been said that the school isn’t closing, but I have to put this question out there: If new teachers aren’t coming in to replace ones that left, if students are turned away, and cutbacks keep happening, what is going to happen? We’re basically like a closed system, when people can leave, but not come back.
The NSD is certainly a piece of this province’s history, another piece of history that is lost and gone forever.
If the closure happened in the name of progress and for the greater good of children who are hearing impaired, then its closing is bittersweet and practical. If it closed only because it’s a cheaper alternative to ‘mainstreaming’ and government and educators did precious little this last decade to promote it as a prestigious learning environment, then that indeed is a pity. Let’s hope it was indeed the deaf children who decided this fate.
And, let’s hope not another deaf child will feel the harsh loneliness of being lost in a crowd as young Nicole Marsh described in her years being mainstreamed.