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Family with deaf child finds much better supports in public school

Written on January 23rd, 2008

Sues provincial government for discrimination 

The Blusteins are one of eight families who launched a lawsuit against the provincial government last year for violating the Charter rights of their disabled children. Dayna Blustein, 12, became deaf after a bout with meningitis at the age of four.

Her parents determined that she would have the same opportunities as her older siblings, despite her disabilities, and they enrolled her in an independent Jewish day school.

Dayna has a cochlear implant, which is a small electronic device that helps to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf.

In order for Dayna to be able to use the implant in the classroom a few extra supports are required. The teacher must wear a device that enables her voice to transfer directly to Dayna. Some minor modifications must be made to the classroom and staff must receive some training.

The Blusteins funded the provision of these supports throughout the time their daughter attended the religious school. While the funding itself wasn’t unmanageable, Norm Blustein, Dayna’s father, says arranging for and maintaining the supports was left to the family.

“It was tedious to have to do everything on our own,” he says. “We had to explain things to the teacher, there were all kinds of problems with the equipment, and we were basically doing it all for them.”

Two years ago the Blusteins decided to transfer their daughter, who also didn’t seem to be thriving, to a public school. She entered an arts program for which she was required to audition and is doing remarkably well, according to her father.

She receives full support for her disability at the public school. An itinerant teacher for the deaf provides in-servicing to her regular classroom teacher. The school funds and arranges for all classroom modifications and support devices.

The Blusteins have agreed to become involved in the lawsuit against the provincial government as an example of a family which has moved to the better-supported public school system.

But their reasons for doing so are more deeply tied to the fact that this is a human rights issue, says Blustein.

“The heart of it is that kids with disabilities in private schools should still be receiving the same services as kids (in public schools).”

Blustein adds that the case seems so simple he isn’t sure how the government will defend itself.

He’s referring to the fact that certain types of disabilities are already government-funded in religious schools. It’s a case of how that funding is transferred that is denying children with other types of disabilities equal access to government support.

Blustein also points out that the provincial government allocates $14.4 million for special needs in religious schools every year, yet only about $4.5 million is actually spent through the Ministry of Health.

“This isn’t asking for extra money from the taxpayer,” he says. “This is just about using the money that has already been allocated and starting to pay for services for the deaf and blind and learning disabled.

“Explained properly I really don’t see how it can be denied.”

A court hearing on a procedural issue on this lawsuit is to take place in March.