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New Mississippi Law Makes ASL a Foreign Language Credit

The new law calls for the state Board of Education to develop a curriculum related to the study of sign language.

American Sign Language teacher Maria Nolan talks to her students both verbally and using ASL during class recently at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Wyo., on Feb. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Casper Star-Tribune, Dan Cepeda)

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American Sign Language will count as a foreign language credit in Mississippi high schools, under a law that goes into effect July 1.

The force behind Senate Bill 2339 is Pearl Rver County high school teacher Miranda Loveless. Loveless teaches art and ASL at Pearl River Central High School. She fell in love with ASL as a teenager, which led her to becoming a special education teacher.

“My hope for this new curriculum is not just for our students whether they are hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf. My hope is that we can grow as a community to accept everyone no matter their hearing abilities,” she said.

The new law calls for the state Board of Education to develop a curriculum related to the study of sign language and for any such class to count as an academic credit for a foreign language to meet high school graduation requirements.

Loveless got the idea for the bill after learning that there’d never been an effort in the Legislature to make ASL a foreign language in Mississippi schools. She reached out to state Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, through the lawmaker’s grandson, who took one of Loveless’ sign language classes.

Hill said the law can incentivize hearing people to become translators. “The hope is that more young people will learn to communicate sign language and lead to potential careers in the field as translators for the hearing impaired,” she said in an email.

There is a larger problem of children with disabilities lacking sufficient accommodations in Mississippi schools. Chauncey Spears, whose daughter is deaf, says the new law will help deaf students who use ASL as their first language.

Chauncey Spears, right, with his daughter, Selasie Spears, who is deaf. He says Mississippi's new law allowing American Sign Language to count as a foreign language credit will help deaf students who use ASL as their first language.

Spears says there is a lack of support for deaf students who use ASL as their first language. Many teachers lack proper training, making it easier for students to fall behind.

He said parents and leaders at the Mississippi School for the Deaf started a movement to allow the state to classify deaf and hard-of-hearing students as English language learners. ASL is not English, and there is no written ASL for students to access written content in courses required for graduation.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students must learn written English, the language of most textbooks and other instructional materials.

Spears hopes this curriculum change will be the first step towards change.

“We are learning that there is untapped potential in these students and that their needs and potential can be better met with the proper investments and training and educational practices that can prove to be successful,” he said.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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