Kimberly and Todd Churchill have won a small victory in a huge battle to get the support they need in the school system for their eight-year-old son, Carter
Carter Churchill has cerebral palsy. He is deaf and communicates through American Sign Language (ASL).
Kimberly Churchill is chair of a program called CLASS.
The acronym stands for Children’s Language Acquisition Support System. Established in 2018, CLASS is a voluntary, non-profit organization that supports Deaf, Hard of Hearing (DHH) and non-speaking children by providing programs and services focusing on education and empowerment.
‘Gain a Super Power’
In a letter dated July 31 from the Newfoundland and Labrador School District NLESD), Churchill was informed that the district had completed a second compressive review of the “Gain a Super Power Program” and has approved the program for elementary schools.
The program falls under the CLASS umbrella and allows Churchill and other volunteers to go into schools during lunch time to introduce children aged five to nine to ASL.
“Children pick (ASL) up so quickly that it makes so much sense to have a program to bring it into the school system to teach all children ASL to help bridge the gap that’s happening in so many schools,” Churchill said.
Churchill is delighted that the district has approved the “Gain a Super Power Program” for the upcoming school year. The program will be offered at no cost to the child. School participation is voluntary and Churchill is currently recruiting volunteers to go into the schools to deliver the program.
“Communication is everything. This is the way to help many children feel more confident. It will help with self-esteem and it goes both ways – it will help hearing children as well as deaf children.”
The family have been advocating for several years for deaf education for Carter. Churchill has been teaching ASL to young children for almost four years.
“I wanted to teach as many families and children sign language vocabulary so that if they ever saw my child in a playground, around the hospital, wherever… that they would have a way to communicate with him,” she said.
Without being able to communicate, people live in isolation, she said, and that’s not something the couple are willing to have happen to their child.
The issue goes well beyond playgrounds and other settings and is especially crucial in the classroom.
“With the inclusion idea our children are placed in classrooms where none of the other children are familiar with sign language,” Churchill said.
That’s why CLASS programs are so important, she said. Although the two are thrilled about the “Gain a Super Power Program” their fight for a fair education for their son is far from over.
Carter is heading to Grade Three at Beachy Cove Elementary in Portugal Cove-St. Philips. “My son is only able to communicate with his teacher who has ASL but she’s retired now so he doesn’t have a teacher for the fall,” she said.
The Churchill family is now proceeding to a formal human rights hearing against the NLESD regarding Carter’s education.
The family had filed a human rights complaint with the school district in 2017. However, they recently terminated the process and chose, instead, to proceed to a formal hearing before the NL Human Rights Commission.
Response from NLESD
When contacted about the family’s complaint regarding their son’s education, NLESD provided a statement which noted that the district doesn’t comment on specific situations involving students or families. However, they did confirm that the district has been actively engaged in mediation seeking voluntary resolution of the complaint.
Those discussions are confidential, the statement continued.
“The district respects that process, and while there is no further mediation planned at this time, we will continue to engage in the Human Rights Commission process as required without commenting on the status of the complaint or the specific position of the parties,” the statement read.
The statement also noted that the district delivers a wide range of services provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Education (EECD) for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, depending on their level of hearing loss and whether they have other exceptionalities which require additional supports.
The district is also working with EECD, and other Atlantic provinces, on a review of deaf and hard of hearing services to determine how services can be better delivered, and what level of resources is required.
Go Fund Me page
A new position has been created at the district which will work directly with deaf and hard of hearing itinerant teachers throughout the province on improving service delivery, the statement read.
The Churchills have started a Go Fund Me page to help cover costs of the formal hearing. According to the fundraising campaign, the family has been advised by their legal counsel that the route of a formal hearing could take two-four years and upwards to $50,000 in legal fees. The dispute goes beyond Carter, the Churchills wrote.
The fight is for all deaf children in the province who are currently being deprived of the opportunity to have a quality education equivalent to what hearing children receive, the couple wrote on their fundraising page.
The formal decision in this hearing will impact all current and future deaf children, the family wrote.
“We often think of leaving a legacy and there is no greater legacy than helping a child reach their full potential,” they wrote.
For more information on CLASS visit CLASS on Facebook or: nlclass.com. For more information on the Go Fund Me page visit: gofundme.com and search “Help Carter Churchill.” To sign up as a volunteer for the “Gain a Super Program” program visit: lilsigninghands.ca/volunteer-signing-super-hero.