Newspaper clipping – The Mercury – 12 June 2009

Pupil goes to court to fight matric battle

A deaf matric pupil at Westville Boys High is taking on South Africa’s education authorities in a court battle which he hopes will enable him, and other hearing impaired people, to take sign language as an official matric subject.

With his hearing loss now at 91 percent, Kyle Springate, 18, says he never wanted to be treated differently to others. He has overcome the odds, excelling at mainstream school and looking forward to enrolling at university next year to study fine art.

But with only months until his final examinations, his future is now bleak with word from the Education Department that sign language – a subject he has been studying with departmental blessing throughout high school – is not a recognized matric subject.

With the backing of his mother, lawyers from Durban’s Legal Resources Centre, the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) and the KwaZulu-Natal Blind and Deaf Society, he has approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court for intervention.

His application is two-pronged: He is seeking an urgent order compelling the provincial and national ministers of basic education to allow him to sit the exam this year and he wants a broader “public interest” constitution-linked order declaring sign language to be an official school subject. 

Kyle says with his progressive hearing loss, sign language is a vital skill for him.
            “My mother has arranged for me to have the most powerful hearing aid but it cannot prevent the degeneration in hearing…sign language may become my only way of communication,” he said.

In 2006, when he was required to submit his subject choices for matric, the provincial education department had issued a computer-generated form, indicating that he was registered for sign language and allocating it a code.

It was only last October, at a conference organized by DeafSA, that Kyle’s mother Paige McLennan-Smith first learned the department had yet to approve it as a language for matric.

Deeply concerned, McLennan-Smith, assisted by the principal and teachers at the school, spent months seeking clarity on the issue, with Kyle becoming increasingly frustrated and anxious.

The department refused to budge. The upshot was that he could write fewer subjects, effectively negating any chance of getting into university, or switch to a recognized subject and catch up on three years work in three months.

McLennan-Smith said Kyle had now begun studying dramatic arts to avoid further prejudice should the court case fail.
            “He has boundless enthusiasm, and has been working hard to catch up. But it is now clear his other subjects are suffering…he is exhausted after a normal school day because as a result of his lip-reading ability, he has to concentrate at all times. Now, with this added burden, he is even more exhausted,” she says.

The application has the backing of heads of some schools in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which cater for the deaf who have submitted affidavits pointing out the failings of the present policy.

The application will come before the court of July 16. The education ministers have until July 6 to file affidavits of opposition.