Deaf pupil drops matric bid

2009-08-20 00:00

WITH his trial exams starting in just one week, deaf Westville Boys’ High matriculant Kyle Springate (18) yesterday withdrew his legal bid to force the Education Department (DoE) to allow him to take sign language as a subject for matric this year.

However, the bid to win official recognition of sign language for matrics in future will continue. That part of the case was yesterday postponed indefinitely, pending a new trial date.

Kyle’s mother, Paige McLennan-Smith, who — along with the Legal Resources Centre in Durban, the Deaf Federation of SA (Deafsa) and the KZN Blind and Deaf Society — has supported her son in his bid to force Education authorities to recognise sign language as an official matric subject, said yesterday she felt “shattered” by the decision to abandon part of the application that most affects her son.

However, she said it was clear that the Education Department intended all along to drag out the legal process to the point where Kyle’s application to take sign language as a subject this year, was merely “academic”.

“It is simply too late with his exams looming in a week’s time. He has had to concentrate his efforts on his additional subject, Speech and Drama, despite the … fact that he is severely prejudiced because he had to start a new subject from scratch way behind his peers,” she told The Witness at the high court yesterday.

However — as was pointed out by Penelope Vinjevold of the National Education Department in her affidavit — Kyle’s second phase school report for the year, which is attached to the court papers, indicates that he is faring well in dramatic arts, having received 80%.

Vinjevold submitted that there is no reason to suppose that Kyle will not be in a position to get a university pass under the circumstances.

He hopes to study Fine Art.

McLennan-Smith issued a statement saying that Kyle worked hard and caught up “the best he is able given the circumstances with his eighth subject”.

“The failure of the DoE to meet the deadlines in submitting their papers and in fact giving us answers all those years ago, has meant this issue has dragged on for longer than it should have.”

She said the “up side” is that Kyle has paved the way for the future of SA Sign Language. “The support and interest that his case has created has meant that sign language and its status are now being discussed in households. People are expressing their opinions and SL is back in the arena … We have had tremendous support and we would like to thank the LRC for their hard work and all those in the public who expressed their kindness.”

Vinjevold, who is in charge of development and implementation of the national policies of the DoE, said in her affidavit the development of a language (such as sign language) into a National Senior Certificate subject is “not something that can be done as hastily as suggested by the applicants”.

She said a process is currently underway to “phase in” sign language as a possible matric subject, but indicated that the earliest possible date for this would be from 2011.

Vinjevold said there is currently still no certainty or consensus among different organisations representing the aurally impaired communities with regard to the “exact definitions or components” of sign language. The differences of opinion have led to delays in the process that is intended to give it recognition.

She also said in her affidavit that Rhodes University has confirmed that sign language is not a “designated subject” and that Kyle would not score academic points for it at university. Dramatic arts would be far more beneficial to Kyle, she said.

Vinjevold said Kyle’s mother and school had known since January that he could not take sign language as a matric subject, but only acted on the department’s advice in March.

The support and interest that his case has created has meant that sign language and its status are now being discussed.

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