‘We Need Each Other’

DRUMMOND REPORT: A Grade 6 pupil at Robarts School for the Deaf in London makes an emotional plea to save her school

By The London Free Press
Last Updated: February 22, 2012 8:20am

Hope Rehman, a Grade 6 pupil at Robarts School for the Deaf in London, with the help of mom Kate’s typing skills, has written a letter to Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, worried her school may close.

“I feel I am proud of being deaf,” Hope wrote. “I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. I feel complete. Robarts is not only my school, it is my family. I don’t want it to go away.”


Her concern was prompted by a recommendation from economist Don Drummond last week that the three Ontario schools for the deaf be merged into one by the cash-strapped provincial government.

The recommendation was one of more than 300 aimed at fighting a provincial deficit that has grown to $16 billion.

Robarts, smaller than schools in Milton and Belleville, is believed vulnerable.

“I feel like I really belong at Robarts because there are deaf staff and students,” Hope wrote. “When I was in mainstream (regular school) I only had two friends because everyone thought I was weird because I had hearing aids . . . I got Cs and Ds because I was very angry, sad, depressed and I could not understand my teachers.”

“Now I am very successful! I get A-plus and Bs,” she said.

Hope said she was upset at the prospect of her family having to move again to pursue deaf education for her and her younger sister, Cassie, 9, who is in Grade 4.

“I will lose many friends because they cannot move. We will all be split up,” she wrote. “Deaf is a small world and we need each other. If you do close the schools, you will hurt all of us.”

Hope’s mother, Kate, a single mom, said she moved with the girls from Windsor because there weren’t any facilities for the hard of hearing in that city.

Both Hope and Cassie were born deaf, like their mother. In London, they have found friends and support in the deaf community around Robarts that has 34 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

“These schools provide completeness on all levels for children,” Kate told The Free Press by e-mail.

“Deaf schools provide emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and mentally. Why should these children have to suffer? Moving all the schools into one gives such a small window of access. It limits deaf children.”

The Ministry of Education has declined comment on possible closures and said any action will be announced when the provincial budget is unveiled.

The potential closure of deaf schools is a blow to accessibility, says the Ontario Association for the Deaf. It’s seeking a meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

In a letter to them, Dean Walker, executive director of the association, said after 20 years of fighting for access for deaf students “no real changes have been made to ensure that deaf people are treated as equal to hearing people in Ontario.” Closures would be a setback.

Walker argued the province would face higher costs to accommodate deaf students in mainstream schools because they would be spread out but still need help from professionals to deal with their special needs.

Walker also noted deaf $students who attend mainstream schools do more poorly than those who attend schools for the deaf.

“It is a fact that many former students from non-deaf schools can’t find jobs and then live on welfare or the Ontario Disability Support Program. Is this making sense to you?”

As for the future of her girls, Kate Rehman said she’s hoping she doesn’t have to relocate again to pursue deaf education for Hope and Cassie.

“I know they both want to go to college or university,” she said. “My oldest wants to be a teacher for the deaf. As far as where will they go, that is up to them.”

In the meantime, she worries about the immediate future of Robarts and whether the small world of Hope and Cassie will shrink even more.

ONTARIO’S SCHOOLS FOR THE DEAF

Robarts School for the Deaf, London

Opened 1973

Junior kindergarten to Grade 12

43 students

Named after Londoner and Conservative Ontario premier John Robarts (premier 1961-71).

Ernest C. Drury School for the Deaf, Milton

Opened 1963

Junior kindergarten to Grade 12

206 students

Named after Ernest Drury, United Farmers of Ontario premier (premier 1919-23)

Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf, Belleville

Founded 1870, Ontario’s first school for the deaf

Junior kindergarten to Grade 12

About 75 students

Named after Tory premier James Whitney (premier 1905-14)

Reproduced from http://www.lfpress.com/news/london/2012/02/21/19406936.html