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School District Says Deaf Student Not Required to Change Name

By: Kim Eiten Email
By: Kim Eiten Email

Thousands are weighing in on a story from last week. As Nebraska Central News first reported, the way a deaf 3-year-old signs his name is being called into question by his school.

Last week, a Grand Island Public School spokesman talked with us but wouldn't say much on the issue.

Now, people all over the country are sounding off.

The family of Hunter Spanjer, the preschooler asked to change the way he signs his name, said the support has been tremendous.

"The encouragement and support is amazing," Brian Spanjer, Hunter's father, said. "It's been more than I could have asked for and it's been extremely helpful."

But, that's not the case for Grand Island Public Schools.

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

A statement from GIPS Communications Coordinator Jack Sheard said there's more to the story.

It reads, "The sign language techniques taught in the school district are consistent with the standards of the Nebraska Department of Education and ASL [American Sign Language]."

Hunter has been using S.E.E., or Signing Exact English, at home.

The school's statement goes on to say, "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. He said 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."

Grand Island Public Schools sent this response:

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!

 "Grand Island Public Schools is not requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name." -GIPS Statement released Tuesday
 

Petition letter on change.org addressed to GIPS asking officials to let Hunter Spanjer keep his sign name.


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