The English school district accepts the findings in the deaf education discrimination case

Carter sat on a blanket outside in the summer.  He is smiling.
Carter Churchill’s family won a human rights case against the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District in March. (Submitted by Kimberly Churchill )

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says it accepts the findings of a human rights tribunal report that it ordered to provide Carter Churchill — a profoundly deaf child from Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s — with education and evaluation in American Sign Language and pay his family nearly $150,000 for discrimination.

Carter’s parents, Todd and Kimberly Churchill, won the human rights case against the district in early March after a year-long fight to get their son the education he needed. Along with being deaf, Carter, who is 12 and uses ASL to communicate, has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal.

“The district does accept and fully accept and take responsibility for the systemic issues identified and the missed opportunities early in Carter’s education and we fully understand that’s what leads to the ruling of discrimination,” the District’s interim superintendent Terry Hall said Wednesday late afternoon.

“Those missed opportunities resulted in him being socially isolated and impeded his development of social and language skills, furthering a tremendous communications divide during his early years,” Hall wrote in a statement.

Hall doesn’t blame any individual for the district’s failure, but says the system “did not have a wholly informed perspective of his needs,” and has apologized to the Churchill family.

The Churchills first filed a complaint against the district when Carter was in Kindergarten at Beachy Cove Elementary. The family said Carter needed help to communicate and develop language skills and engage in the school curriculum, but wasn’t getting the proper supports.

At that time the district said it had not discriminated against Carter, and asserted that Carter was properly accommodated.

Kimberly and Todd Churchill sitting at their kitchen table, hands crossed, looking concerned.
Kimberly and Todd Churchill said their deaf son, Carter, wasn’t being accommodated in the classroom, along with other deaf children in the province. (Gary Locke/CBC)

The human rights commission ruled that the district failed to provide reasonable accommodation for Carter between 2016 and 2020 when he was in Kindergarten until Grade 3 at Beachy Cove Elementary.

During these years, the report found that Carter experienced social isolation and had teachers who didn’t know ASL or with training in teaching deaf children.

When Carter was in Grade 4 the school district created a classroom for deaf children at East Point Elementary for eight children learning American Sign Language.

The Churchills say despite this development, Carter’s ASL is not at the level it should be.

“It hurts, there’s no doubt when … you’re told that you failed a student even for a year or two or three, but again we’re taking away that we improved upon that. We now have a service that is felt that’s adequate ,” Hall said.

The district had until March 31 to appeal the tribunal’s decision, but it will not do so.

“We will continue to improve ASL skills both in our students and in our staff,” Hall said.

Kimberly and Todd Churchill in the living room playing with Carter, who is in a wheelchair.
The Churchills playing in their Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s home. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The Churchills have called the tribunal ruling a landmark decision, which will help protect other deaf children from discrimination.

Meanwhile Hall says the NLESD will review programs to make sure they have appropriate services for students like Carter who have exceptionalities.

“We’ll take lessons from this to see if we can improve in other areas,” said Hall.

“We want the correct educational environment and resources for all of our students and we want to make sure that they all have an opportunity to learn and learn appropriately and with the right resources,” he said.

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