Sunday, February 07, 2010

Interpreter taken from deaf pupil

Interpreter taken from deaf pupil

A Peterborough mother is speaking out after the local Catholic school board cancelled the interpreter support in junior kindergarten for her four-year-old son who is deaf.

Jonah didn't go to St. Patrick's School on Wednesday because he was so upset that the interpreter who was working with him had been reassigned, said Jessika Van Spronsen, Jonah's mother.

"They're saying he does not qualify because he does not initiate conversation so therefore he does not sign," she said. "He's deaf, obviously he signs.... He will be deaf, mute for the rest of his life.

"He only qualifies to have an EA (educational assistant) who does some signing."

Van Spronsen said she was told of the change in her child's educational supports on Jan. 29.

Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic School Board officials refused to comment on confidential information about pupils.

"The best thing for her is to meet with our staff to resolve problems," education director John Mackle said.

The school board uses an array of supports, such as interpreters, educational assistants, computers, certain teaching methods and other technology, to help students with special needs based on the individual student's needs, superintendent of special education Dale Godin said.

"There's not one single silver bullet that's going to fix the probl

em that blocks a child from learning. It's often a complex array of different things that we need to put into place," he said. "We have all kinds of sympathy for parents because they're trying their best to advocate for their child.

"We try really hard to engage parents.... The door is continually open and even if they disagree with the decision that has been made there's an opportunity to come and talk and sit down and try to find a way that's going to make everyone feel comfortable moving forward."

There are about 15,000 students in the local Catholic school board, including 1,697 students who have been identified as exceptional, with behavi o u ra l challenges, language impairments, giftedness, learning disabilities or other exceptional attributes. There are 16 students in the school board who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Van Spronsen is worried that Jonah is going to regress in his development because it'll be more difficult for him to communicate with teachers and other students.

"My son has never been as outspoken as he is now and I say it's to do with the interpreter," Van Spronsen said. "He has just come out of his shell in ways that I have never seen before.... I don't think this is fair to do to any family.... I just don't know why they'd want to do that kind of damage to a little child."

A student who is fluent in American sign language would be given an interpreter, Godin said.

"In some cases, with very young students, we would say, who may not have been assessed yet, then it wouldn't be appropriate to assign an interpreter because we wouldn't know whether or not the student... would have the level of signing that would make it necessary to have the interpreter," he said.

Godin explained the school board assesses students who may have special needs before they start school but there could be a need for further assessments to determine the best educational supports for specific students.

"Some of our EAs have certain levels of signing that they do so some EAs work with students because the bigger component of their work with the student is around educational support," he said. "An interpreter is not trained to give educational support.

"An EA who has signing is doubly good because they support the child. They are trained at how to assist children in accessing curriculum, in supporting the teacher, in supporting the learning of the child in the classroom."

Jonah has CHARGE syndrome with various abnormalities, his mother said.

He's completely deaf in the left ear and he has limited hearing in the right ear that has improved to 65% hearing with a hearing aid on the right side, Van Spronsen said.

"He's a normal five-year-old boy (Jonah turns five on Thursday) who just wants to be accepted for who he is," she said.

There's not just one formula for enhancing the learning abilities of students, special education services co-ordinator Deb Heslinga said.

"It's not just a list of rules.... We match what each unique stud e nt's needs are," she said. "That's, I guess, the richness of special (education). We can match the needs of the student."