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Deaf Schools In Belleville Worried About Future

Deaf News: Dozens of local Deaf and students and their service providers are dreading a recent announcement Deaf Schools into closures in Ontario.

BELLEVILLE, ON -- Intelligencer: Dozens of local Deaf and learning disabled students and their service providers are dreading a recent announcement of the need for efficiency at five specialized institutions across the province will translate into school closures.

Union representatives held a meeting in Belleville Friday to rally students, staff and parent support in their bid to stave off what they say will be imminent school closures unless action is taken to demonstrate a strong case for why local public schools aren’t properly equipped to provide the specialized services delivered by institution like Sir James Whitney and Sagonaska Demonstration Secondary School.

“Closure are going to happen if we don’t do something,” said Daryl O’Grady, local president for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). “We’re getting a campaign together to fight.”

He said the Education Ministry is linking planned reductions to declining Deaf student enrollment.

“They sat back and watched these programs get to where they are now so they can come and say we don’t have the numbers,” O’Grady said. “As a union we will be calling them out on that. This is a good turnout and it shows that people are concerned here,” he said, of the meeting held at the Travelodge Hotel on Friday.

Ann Carr, a former counsellor at the local schools, warned that inaction will be costly once the school year ends and changes are implemented in the fall.

“These children need people qualified to be with them,” Carr said. “When these children go into the regular system they’re just going to have someone who took a regular sign language course. If I were you guys I would go to the local public board and find out what they’re going to do for your kids before the cuts come.

“You are in danger,” Carr said. “These kids have a right.”

She urged students and staff to lobby the mayor and other levels of government to back their campaign to protect jobs and specialized student education here.

“If you don’t do it now, at the end of June you guys are going to have nothing,” said Carr. “At the end of June they’re going to say goodbye. This is for real, you have to start moving today.”

Sarah Colbeck is not only a social worker providing services at both aforementioned schools, but she’s also speaks from the unique perspective of being a mother with four children taught at the Dundas Street West site.

“Deaf children get full access to certain services for free,” Colbeck said of the current system, which if changed will force parents to either send students to schools farther away or foot the bill to find services and American Sign Language tutors.

“Once you close that school it’s going to be a disaster,” Colbeck said. “It’s going to have a big impact on the hearing schools (public schools) as well because they’re not prepared to cater to each student’s needs. Many professionals in these schools have no idea how to approach a Deaf child and their needs.”

The other option is send children to public schools with limited resources to tailor to each student’s individual needs.

“The community and parents have to work together and fight,” Colbeck said. “We have to spread more awareness that the schools actually benefit the children.” The prospect of job losses also hangs over her head.

In her current role, Colbeck is employed .5 at Sir James Whitney and .5 at Sagonaska, so “if Sagonaska closes I would lose .5 of my job this fall and how am I supposed to support my family,” she said through an interpreter. Source

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