A Nebraska public school is barring a deaf three-year-old boy from using sign language to sign his name because, it claims, the gesture resembles a gun. The school’s policies have prompted outrage from parents, rights groups and ordinary citizens.
Hunter Spanjer’s parents were informed by the Grand Island Public School that the way their child signed his name was a violation of the school’s weapons policy.
“He's deaf, and his name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy,” the boy’s father Brian Spanjer told Nebraska Central News (NCN).
The three-year-old uses Signing Exact English (SEE), a manual communication system mostly used by deaf children and based on the American Sign Language (ASL).
Spanjer crosses his index and middle fingers to show that his name sign is uniquely his.
“It’s a symbol,” his father stressed. “It's an actual sign, a registered sign, through SEE.”
But the Grand Island Public Schools board policy 8470 prohibits students from possessing, handling or transmitting a “firearm, weapon” or anything that “looks like a weapon.”
“Such items will be considered weapons for the purposed (sic) of this policy,” the document states. “Students who are in possession of the aforementioned articles will be subject to mandatory suspension or expulsion procedures.”
The school has so far failed to produce an adequate explanation for how a three-year-old’s crossed index and middle fingers could be grounds for expulsion. A spokesperson for the facility said it was trying to arrive at the “best possible solution” for the child.
A number of civil rights groups derided the school’s policies, which effectively mean that the child would either have to change the way he signs his name or be deprived of the right to education.
“A name sign is the equivalent of a person's name, and to prohibit a name sign is to prohibit a person's name,” Howard Rosenblum, the CEO of the National Association of the Deaf was quoted by The Huffington Post as stating.
The American Civil Liberties Union also sent a letter to the local school district, asking it to rethink its policies.
Brian Spanjer also started a Facebook page to garner support for his son to be able to keep his name sign. Most of the commenters were amazed by the school’s extreme policies.
“What is this world coming to?” Facebook user Louise Arsenault Lanyon Kissinger noted. “There is so much more wrong in this world they could be worrying about [than] this little [boy's] name in sign language. Oh please…”
Stacey Coar Philips remarked that the policy was right out of classic dystopian novels 1984 or Brave New World. Many others complained that the school was devoting too much attention to trivial issues instead of concentrating on real issues like education and actual security.