Deaf student needs teacher who can communicate, parents fear he will fall behind

The parents of a Grade 1 boy in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's say he is being discriminated against because of his hearing impairment, and they worry about what will happen as he gets into higher grades.

Carter Churchill gets only 2 hours of instruction a day with teacher who knows sign language

Carter Churchill is six years old and non-verbal. He communicates through American Sign Language. (CBC)

The parents of a six-year-old boy from Portugal Cove-St. Philip's say the education system is discriminating against their son, who is deaf.

Carter Churchill has cerebral palsy, and has cochlear implants that allow him to hear, but he does not speak and communicates instead through American Sign Language.

'We don't want to look back and have Carter ask us when he's 18, and he has very limited education and very limited opportunities, 'Dad, why didn't you do something about it?'"- Todd Churchill

His parents, Todd and Kimberly Churchill, say that's a challenge in his Grade 1 classroom at Beachy Cove Elementary. They say Carter gets only two hours of instruction a day from a teacher who knows sign language.

The rest of the day is spent with a teacher who cannot communicate with him, and a student assistant who speaks ASL but is there to care for Carter's personal needs, not to teach.  

Kimberly Churchill uses sign language to communicate with her son. She says he needs a teacher who can communicate that way too. (CBC)

'I find it very frustrating," said Kimberly Churchill, who is worried her son will fall behind. 

"It's not OK; it's discrimination. It's his right that he receive a quality education that is equal to that of his peers, and it's something that's not happening." 

Assessments a problem

The Churchills say being in a classroom with a teacher and students who don't know ASL also means Carter is not honing his language skills.

"When I went to school, I was taught English in every single grade right to Grade 12, but now Carter is not expected to learn any ASL in school at all," said Todd Churchill.  

And then there's the issue of report cards. The Churchills say the regular classroom teacher, who does not know ASL, is expected to assess a student with whom he or she can't have a conversation.

"They pushed him from kindergarten to Grade 1, not knowing what he understood, if anything," said his mom.

"Some of the criteria on his report card were 'understands health concepts,' and how do you know what a deaf child knows if you have no way of getting it out of them? To use a computer analogy with Carter, he can download; he just can't upload," his father added.

Kimberly and Todd Churchill say they don't blame teachers, but the education system is failing their son. (CBC)

The Churchills worry their son will fall behind.

"Eventually he'll get to Grade 12, and maybe have a Grade 2 or Grade 3 education, maybe if he was lucky," said Todd Churchill, who broke down as he expressed his fears to CBC Television's Here and Now on Tuesday.

"As a father, and I'm sure my wife will say the same thing, we don't want to look back and have Carter ask us when he's 18, and he has very limited education and very limited opportunities, 'Dad, why didn't you do something about it?'"

Commitments watered down

When the Newfoundland School for the Deaf in St. John's closed in 2010 because of low enrolment, the provincial government promised continued support for students who were being moved into regular classrooms.

But Todd Churchill said that commitment has been watered down as former School for the Deaf students graduate from the system.

"We know that there is an injustice being done here," said Kimberly Churchill.

"And we know that our son and other children like him deserve much more, and both of us we have no intention of ever quitting. We're sticking around until Carter gets a full-time teacher of the deaf in his classroom."

There's not much that slows down Carter Churchill, who loves to play outside with his brother. (CBC)

As for Carter, he isn't too stressed, at least when he's home and zipping around in his motorized wheelchair, playing with his brother.

"He's gone through so much in six years, more than what most people will go through their entire life and he's faced with such a great outlook on life. He's so happy, he's an inspiration to me every day," said his dad.

With files from Carolyn Stokes