Deaf preschooler in trouble for name sign

By: KOLN-KGIN Reporters Email
By: KOLN-KGIN Reporters Email

The way a deaf three year old signs his name has been called into question by his school. But the tremendous public outcry has the Grand Island Public School officials in Nebraska back pedaling.

Hunter Spanjer says his name with a certain special hand gesture, but last week, he was told he may have to change it.

"He's deaf, and his name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy," explained Hunter's father, Brian Spanjer.

Grand Island’s “Weapons in Schools” Board Policy 8470 forbids "any instrument...that looks like a weapon." The school said that would include the child’s hands.

"Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way," said Hunter's grandmother Janet Logue.

According to Brian, the sign Hunter uses is an actual registered sign through Signing Exact English, Hunter’s sign language.

In sign language, people often modify signs for their names to make them uniquely their own. Hunter’s name gesture includes crossed fingers that look like he’s miming shooting a gun.

After the story broke, The Grand Island Public Schools have been feeling the harsh backlash.

They said they've been receiving hundreds of angry calls and emails, even death threats.

In response, GIPS released a statement, which reads in part, "Grand Island Public Schools is not requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name."

The Nebraska Department of Education told Nebraska Central News, there are no state regulations for students using sign language. They said those come at the district level.

Sheard told NCN the school is working with the family and the first priority is protecting their student.

The ACLU is getting involved in the case.

A letter from the organization to the school calls it a question of a students' form of chosen speech.

It reads, "A parent's choice of name for his child is one of the most personal aspects of the parent-child relationship and the district cannot step into the middle of that constitutionally protected relationship."

Here is GIPS’s full statement:

Grand Island Public Schools has not changed the sign language name of any student, nor is it requiring any student to change how his or her name is signed. 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. The sign language techniques taught in the school district are consistent with the standards of the Nebraska Department of Education and ASL.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits the school district from disclosing personally identifiable information concerning any student without the prior written consent of the student’s parent.

Therefore, the school district cannot discuss any particular student or identify any particular student.

Grand Island Public Schools is not requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name. Our mission remains: Every Student, Every Day, a Success!

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