I thought I’d share/comment on this news story as I was shocked to read about it in the news yesterday. Not only because of the ridiculousness of the story, but because it takes place near my hometown where I grew up.
While I didn’t attend this school myself, the area is known for being more progressive and a pretty decent school district in terms of level of education and being well-funded thanks in large part to the high taxes in that area, but that’s another commentary for another time.
According to reports from ABC news:
School officials have threatened a hearing-impaired girl with suspension if she uses sign language to talk to her friends on the school bus, the girl’s parents say.
Danica Lesko and her parents say sign language is the only way to for the 12-year-old to communicate, especially while riding to school on a noisy bus.
But officials at Stonybrook School — which is not a school for the hearing-impaired — and district officials in Branchburg, N.J., apparently believe signing is a safety hazard. They have sent a letter to the Lesko family ordering Danica to stop using sign language on the school bus or risk a three-day suspension.
The March 30 letter from her principal that said Danica was “doing sign language after being told it wasn’t allowed on the bus.”
The Leskos may file a lawsuit over the sign language ban, claiming officials are violating Danica’s civil rights and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“She has a hearing problem, and now she’s being punished for using sign language,” Mary Ann Lesko, Danica’s mother, told The Star-Ledger of Newark. “It’s absurd.”
Danica’s parents told the paper that other students who rode to school with their daughter made fun of her, and refused to stay in their seats as they teased other girls who were using sign language. They said school officials are singling out Danica and not addressing those who should really be reprimanded.
Schools Officials: Safety First
In a statement released through the school district’s attorney, David Rubin, the Branchburg Board of Education refused to discuss the details of Danica’s case, saying only that its version of events differs from the parents’ version.
However, the board insisted it has not violated anyone’s rights and is only trying to protect other students who must ride on the school bus.
“The Board is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to all students with disabilities, and is satisfied that there has been no violation of that policy in this case,” officials said in the statement. “The Board is also committed to assuring the safety of all students who travel on District buses, and will continue to take appropriate steps to accomplish that goal.”
One deaf-rights advocate said Danica’s parents have a strong basis for a lawsuit because sign language could be a considered a foreign language, and school officials could be violating the girl’s First Amendment right to communicate.
“Why should there be a ban?” asked Charlotte Karras, outreach coordinator for the Edison, N.J.-based Alliance for Disabled in Action. “It’s a violation of her communication rights. She’s said it’s the only way she can communicate with her friends … It’s [the ban] against the ADA and violates the First Amendment and her family can file a discrimination suit citing the Americans With Disabilities Act.”
Karras said her organization would be willing to help the Leskos with any legal action.
Danica’s parents say she began losing her hearing last November, when a classmate allegedly shot a bottle rocket near her ear. They have already sued the Branchburg School District over that incident.
First of all, how is sign language even remotely a safety hazard? This is the only way a 12 year old girl can communicate with her friends. Why should she be forced not to communicate while every other kid is allowed to? She already has to deal with the unpleasantness of not being able to hear. Now she has to be forced to deal with being completely silenced for apparently no other reason than school board bureaucracy. I started out in the Education system myself, teaching high school English. It was exactly this kind of bureaucracy that led me to quit the profession. As soon as common sense gets thrown out the window, and the idea of education gets filed down to teaching to standardized tests and government mandated curriculum, you know you’re on a sinking ship and it’s time to bail. But again, that’s another commentary for another time…
According to the school officials, it seems they’d rather blame the victim rather than the ones actually doing the misdeeds. If the whole problem is that the safety hazard is the other kids getting out of their seats to make fun of Danica, why would you not punish the ones getting out of their seats when they’re not supposed to? The getting out of seats is the safety hazard. Not the sign language. How is it remotely Danica’s fault? Children will always be children, in that they’re always going to “misbehave” or make fun of each other. Anyone who was once a kid knows that. Some of people I’m not sure ever were…But why add insult to injury by blaming the kid being made fun of? What if the child wasn’t deaf, but instead missing an arm, or was a different ethnicity, or whatever other reason a child would be made fun of. Do you then tell them they will be suspended until they grow their arm back or change color?
The whole issue is just absurd and it just boils down to the board wanting to take the easiest course of action by getting rid of the “difference” instead of effectively accommodating it. You know, like what they’re supposed to be getting paid to do.