IM this article to a friend!

February 18, 2003

Deaf school parents fight removal of Grade 9

From: Belleville Intelligencer, Canada - 18 Feb 2003

By Barry Ellsworth

Local News - Parents are massing to fight the removal of Grade 9 from Sir James Whitney, fearing it could eventually result in the school?s demise.

?The government says no, but it will lead to the closure of the school,? said Neil Burrell, chairman of the deaf facility?s school council. ?This year, Grade 9 is moving. The intention is, the high school is (eventually) moving to Milton.?

The same prospect faces the province?s third residential deaf school in London, home riding of Dianne Cunningham, Minister of Colleges and Universities.

Burrell said, like most of the parents at Sir James Whitney, Cunningham probably knows nothing about the move.

That will change Thursday, when the Whitney school council hosts a meeting of parents and three people from the Ministry of Education. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. and parents will be able to find out exactly what is going on, he said.

Burrell said there was no consultation with parents prior to the Grade 9 announcement, and if it happens, students will be bused from here to Milton beginning this September. Deciding which school, if any, was to close should take into account the views of parents and others, he said.

?Why (retain) Milton over Belleville? People are very deeply concerned,? Burrell said. ?We need a commission to sit down (and discuss it). Let?s approach this in a more responsible (way).?

Sir James Whitney?s enrolment has nose-dived from hundreds to only about 80 students today, Burrell said. The Grade 9 switch to Milton would see four students travelling there by bus from Belleville. The province is looking at how much could be saved by closing the school, but there is more at stake than money, he added.

?(It?s) efficient use of tax dollars versus the value of families and communities for disabled children,? Burrell said. And, he continued, there is still that nagging question of why Sir James Whitney.

As the province?s oldest school for the deaf ? it began in 1870 ? a deaf culture has grown in the surrounding community, providing support and jobs, Burrell said.

?These are huge issues, what you would call cultural issues,? he said.

Burrell and his wife Kate and deaf daughter Erin moved here three years ago. They were tired of Erin catching a bus each morning to the Metro School for the Deaf ? a day school ?  from their home in Oshawa, then returning by the same route at night. She would leave at 7 a.m. and return at 5 p.m.

He worked for the probation office and was able to secure a contract here, while Kate is a teacher at Sir James Whitney.

?We sold our house,? he said. ?We made the family decision on the basis that our child could go to high school here.?

Burrell said the family noticed the change from Oshawa immediately, where there was no deaf community for Erin.

?We moved here on a Friday,? he recalled. ?The next morning, the church down the street was having a rummage sale. The lady who was cooking the burgers was signing her (Erin). The first morning.?

Allowing Erin, now 12, to live in a city with a rich blend of deaf culture, has led to her blossoming, her father said.

?My kid now walks to school,? Neil Burrell said. ?She delivers The Intelligencer. She plays minor hockey. She gets to be part of the community.?

He noted that the skills coach in Erin?s hockey school ?started signing to her ... about the issues of goaltending.?

Interaction with deaf children in residence at Sir James Whitney has also made a big difference, said Burrell.

?(Erin) goes over to the residence to eat popcorn,? Neil Burrell said. ?She?s on the swim team. She plays ball hockey. Her quality of life has dramatically changed.?

Erin is in Grade 7 and if the plan to drop Grade 9 proceeds, a year or so from now, she will be forced to take a bus either Sunday night or early Monday morning, to Milton, and not return to Belleville until Friday, for the weekend. That will remove her from Belleville, where she is progressing so well, her dad said. He was lucky to get a position here, but the family could not move to Milton, Burrell said.

?For our purposes, this is a place my child can grow up,? he said.

He also noted the school is currently upgrading its residences, so closure makes no sense.

Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Ernie Parsons said he plans to be at the Feb. 20 meeting at Sir James Whitney.

?I am deeply troubled that the Ministry felt no obligation to consult with the parents or community regarding this change,? Parsons said in a statement. ?Many families have chosen to reside in this community to be near their children....?

He urged parents to attend the meeting.

© 2003 , OSPREY MEDIA GROUP Inc. All Rights Reserved.