It’s a case that exemplifies doing the wrong thing in the name of doing the right thing. Hunter Spanjer is 3 1/2 years old and lives in Grand Island, Nebraska. As KOLN reports, Hunter is deaf and uses a special sign for his name. But the public school district where he attends preschool wants him to change it because the sign (says the school district) violates its weapons policy.
Indeed, the school district is saying that, when Hunter uses the signs, he is violating Grand Island’s “Weapons in Schools” Board Policy 8470 which forbids “any instrument…that looks like a weapon.”
Hunter signs his name by “crossing his index finger and middle finger and then wagging his hands, which the school says is not appropriate.” School spokesman Jack Sheard tell the New York Daily News that they are teaching Hunter to spell out his name letter by letter rather than using the sign. “We want to do what is best for every student in our district, and we care more about that than everything else,” Sheard says, underscoring that the district is “working with the parents to find the best solution we can.”
But certainly it must be confusing for Hunter to be told that he has been, in essence, signing (“saying” as it were) his name wrong?
As Grand Island resident Dana Schieger said, “It’s his name. It’s not like he’s going to bring a gun to school when he’s three years old.” Another resident, Fredda Bartenbach, said “I find it very difficult to believe that the sign language that shows his name resembles a gun in any way would even enter a child’s mind.”
Brian Spanjer, Hunter’s father, expresses the exasperation of many in saying that “It’s a symbol. It’s an actual sign, a registered sign, through S.E.E.” or Signing Exact English, a sign language system. Hunter’s grandmother, Janet Logue, says simply that “Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way.”
Hunter’s parents say that, by next week, lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf are “likely to weigh in for Hunter’s right to sign his own name.”
The Grand Island school district seems to be having difficulty seeing the forest for the trees and rushing to judgement. Perhaps they are thinking ahead to when Hunter is older and worrying that other children, seeing him sign his name with the gestures his family taught, might mistake these for a weapon?
Regardless, also at issue is whether the Grand Island school district made its decision about how Hunter should sign his name, unilaterally on its own or in consultation with his parents. Based on the family’s comments, it seems that the latter was not the case — and if that is so, the school district, by focusing on a perceived violation of one policy, could, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), be in violation of impinging on Hunter’s rights.
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