What’s next for Michael and Jesse?

Two Sarnia families are searching for answers after being told their sons are no longer welcome at the residential program of the Robarts School for the Deaf in London.

Michael Mathieson, 19, who is deaf and autistic, has attended the school four years, coming home summers and weekends.

Jesse Harris, 20, is deaf and has cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. His family has been told he can’t return in September because he’s too old, even though the posted age limit is 21.

The young men are the last two residents of the school for deaf’s live-in program, which had half a dozen two years ago. Their families say the Ontario Ministry of Education is closing the residential program without public discussion or debate.

“The provincial government is not treating these kids with the respect they deserve,” said Michael’s mother Lyne Mathieson, who added layoff notices have already been given to residential staff.

“They are not getting the proper educational tools to be leaving high school and go to work. We’ve been fighting with the school for a good six months, and we’re not getting answers.”

The Robarts School is one of three provincial schools for the deaf. It uses American Sign Language as the language of instruction and has long offered residential services and programs for students living outside the day travel area.

The next nearest school after London is Ernest C. Drury School in Milton.

“Why is Robarts staff sending these families to Milton, when there is a perfectly good deaf school right in London with an amazing residential program and staff?” asked Tracy Trowbridge, Jesse’s mother,

School officials are saying little. Calls to superintendent Cheryl Zinzser were referred to ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler.

“While no decision has been made about the deaf residence program, it’s important to note that for September 2014 there will be only one student in the deaf residence at Robarts, which is not good for that student’s social development and well-being,” he told The Journal.

The school’s principal is working with the Mathieson family on finding a solution, he added.

Mathieson said the discussions have been frustrating.

Michael isn’t capable of doing the academic program offered at Milton, and the alternative is for him to commute every day on a bus from London, she said.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate and I don’t think they’re being up-front with the parents and rest of the students,” she said.

“It’s a provincial school and they offer the residential program on their website. These kids have the right to a proper education.”

 – George Mathewson