[lg policy] Sign Language Ban Imposed on New.Jersey. Girl

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 27 15:04:03 UTC 2012

Sign Language Ban Imposed on N.J. Girl

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

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

"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.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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