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June 8, 2004

Silence ends as court hears story

From: Brisbane Courier Mail - Brisbane,Queensland,Australia - Jun 8, 2004

Jennifer Dudley

EDUCATION Queensland failed to provide adequate teaching for two deaf children on the Sunshine Coast, leaving one with cognitive damage and language skills so poor he was unable to tell a simple story, a Brisbane court heard yesterday.

The case against Education Queensland, brought by the parents of two "severely to profoundly deaf" children at Sunshine Coast schools, began yesterday in the Federal Court.

Justice Bruce Lander was told Benjamin Devlin, 11, and Tiahna Hurst, 6, were often left in classes without an interpreter and were not schooled in the official deaf language, Auslan, as teachers had not been trained in it.

"The case is they did not communicate to this child the same education as his hearing peers," barrister James Gray said.

Mr Gray said Benjamin attended Noosaville State School, and despite his "normal IQ" was placed in a special education class.

He joined the mainstream class in the afternoon for less-demanding subjects and without an interpreter, Mr Gray said, giving him an inferior education.

He said as a result of his "inadequate" education, Benjamin had the language skills of a five-year-old and might have developed permanent cognitive damage.

Tiahna Hurst, who attended Year 1 at Coolum State School, was younger and therefore had not been damaged as much by the lack of a full-time interpreter, he said, "but she may if she is not given proper instruction".

After discussions with Education Queensland, Benjamin was given access to an Auslan interpreter for five hours each week, while Tiahna received 13 hours' weekly access. Her mother, Gail Smith, quit her job to act as an interpreter for the remaining time.

Jon and Kim Devlin are seeking remedial education and a full-time Auslan interpreter for Benjamin as well as compensation believed to be $500,000.

Gail Smith and Jeff Hurst are seeking a full-time Auslan interpreter for Tiahna and $30,000 compensation.

Deaf Children Australia advocacy adviser Julie Phillips said the case could have far-reaching ramifications.

"If it's successful it sets a precedent which . . . meets the needs for deaf children," she said.

© Queensland Newspapers