30 August 2012

Hunter Spanjer and the Sign Name Debacle

For those who may not have seen the recent news coverage of this story, the signing community (and the much larger "community" of people with common sense) have been up in arms over the following news story: Three-year-old Hunter Spanjer, a deaf preschooler enrolled in Grand Island Public Schools, Nebraska, has been banned from saying, that is signing, his own name. The reason? because the school district says Hunter's sign name is a violation of their weapons policy, which prohibits any "instrument" that "looks like a weapon."

The reasons why this is ridiculous are manifold, and, judging from the online reaction to the readers of the various news stories about the issue, are clear to the general public.

1. The sign Hunter uses is a bonafide sign under the Signing Exact English (SEE) system, literally meaning the word "hunter." The slight modification to the "R" handshape was meant to personalize the sign name. As ASL, the language from which SEE signs are taken, was recognized as an official language in the 1960s, it should be considered under the law like any other (spoken) language.
2. The sign is how Hunter says his name. The government does not, and should not, have a say in what a person names his or her child. No one has banned (at least not yet!) English spoken names like "Hunter" or "Gunner", nor should they, as a person has a right to his or her own name; the request for him to change his name shows a blatant disregard for the validity of Deaf culture and sign language.
3. Hunter's sign name is in no way threatening, nor does it really even look like a weapon. The graphic to the right, courtesy the National Post, demonstrates the sign for Hunter. You can also see him signing in this Huffington Post video, or in the image above.

The NAD and ACLU have looked into the case and plan to help the Spanjers if necessary.  In the mean time I hope that people will continue to make some noise and express anger at this violation of human rights and the basic freedom to say one's name. Hopefully in the future schools will focus more on banning actual guns in school, rather than denying a 3-year-old his voice.

31 August 2012 UPDATE: The school district has released a statement saying they have not (ahem) and will not attempt to change any student's name or how it's signed. Looks like a small victory in the fight for respect by the sign language community!

1 comment:

  1. The superintendent's name is threatening and offensive. He (or she) must change his (or her) name to "FOOL". The school principal must do the same.