A young deaf boy in the United States found himself at the center of a controversy last week when his school district objected to the way he signed his name.
Hunter Spanjer is only three years old, and is currently in preschool at the Early Learning Center in Grand Island. His parents have chosen to educate him primarily using Signing Exact English (SEE), though they wouldn’t mind him learning American Sign Language (ASL) as well.
SEE is a system that allows deaf people to use their hands to visually represent English vocabulary and grammar. It’s easier for hearing people who speak English to learn, and proponents believe it makes it easier for deaf children to learn how to read and write in English.
However, in SEE, Hunter’s official name sign looks suspiciously like a gun, at least according to the school district. His father, Brian Spanjer, told their local NBC affiliate what happened:
“About two weeks ago we had been in contact with his early intervention home visitor and she had asked us if we would change his name. They felt like his name was inappropriate or his name sign. I asked her if there is a school policy that we are in violation of. What I was referred to was, well, ‘technically it’s a violation of our weapons policy.’ I was floored.”
The school district, for its part, denies that’s the problem, instead framing the conflict as an ASL vs. SEE issue. They released a statement saying “Grand Island Public Schools has not changed the sign language name of any student, nor is it requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name.”
Technically, that may be true…but Mr. Spanjer said that the school was still refusing to use the toddler’s name sign, resorting to finger-spelling it for him instead.
The National Association for the Deaf and the ACLU have both gotten involved, so the boy’s school will more than likely have to back down soon. According to the Journal Star, Mr. Spanjer has also requested a SEE interpreter for his son, though the district is using ASL exclusively at present.
What do you think? Should a deaf child be prohibited from using his namesign if it looks like a gun? Also, should the school provide a SEE interpreter, since that’s how the boy’s parents want him educated?