Zero Tolerance for Deaf Child’s Name

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Zero Tolerance for Deaf Child’s Name

Parents of a deaf child named Hunter were told by his Nebraska public preschool that they must change his name because he was in violation of the school district’s weapons policy. To sign his name, the three-year-old crosses his index and middle fingers then wags his hands. This sign apparently appeared to school officials to represent a gun.

Grand Island Public Schools’ policy section 8470 — Weapons in Schools states: “Students are forbidden to knowingly and voluntarily possess, handle, transmit or use any instrument in school, on school grounds or at school functions that is a firearm, weapon, or looks like a weapon. . . .”

Hunter Spanjer’s family has chosen to use Signing Exact English (SEE) as their preferred means of communicating with Hunter, but he is also learning American Sign Language (ASL). At one point, the school seemed to imply that Hunter’s parents had made a mistake by choosing SEE and that they should change to the district-preferred ASL. A district spokesman said, “The school district teaches American Sign Language (ASL) for students with hearing impairments. ASL is recommended by the Nebraska Department of Education and is widely used in the United States.”

A school spokesman told the Daily News that one suggestion the district made was that Hunter spell out his name rather than signing it in one gesture. H-U-N-T-E-R seemed to some to be a daunting undertaking for a three-year-old.

In response to the situation, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) called on Grand Island Public Schools to retract its “request and issue a statement that respects and supports Hunter Spanjer’s cultural and linguistic identity.” The NAD also offered to assist the family in “legal action if the school will not honor its own nondiscrimination policy, and instead misapply a weapons policy that is not even applicable.”

In response to a media request, the school district stated, “Grand Island Public Schools is not requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name.”

In a recent Facebook update Hunter’s grandmother indicated that the preschool has decided to let Hunter use his SEE name sign. The school will also send staff to SEE training and will allow the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf to come to the school and present information to staff about the needs of the deaf.