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Positive sign of the times

Positive sign of the times

EDITORIAL - Staunton  News Leader, February 22, 2011

A new bill giving students foreign language credit for taking sign language courses is sitting on Governor Bob McDonnell's desk awaiting his signature after being approved by wide margins in both the House and the Senate.

It is a good idea that comes from right here in Staunton. Delegate Dickie Bell, a former special education teacher at Riverheads High School, introduced the bill. It is appropriate that the bill comes from here since Staunton is the home of the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. VSDB has been an integral part of the Staunton community since 1838. The bill began as an idea of a group of high school students at Loudoun Valley High School and was supported by VSDB.

The potential law clearly defines that any institution of higher education in Virginia must recognize the successful completion of American Sign Languages courses as a foreign language credit. The decision is now left up to individual universities as to whether ASL is accepted or not. This unclear status of the course discourages students from taking the classes where they are offered.

There was some debate about whether or not ASL is a foreign language because it is used in the United States. But it is clearly a useful language. Depending on how you define deafness, the percentage of Americans who are deaf can be as low as 0.13 percent and as high as 2 percent. This bill hopefully will make it easier for deaf Virginians to find someone who speaks their language at the checkout counter or in a restaurant.

Two VSDB students participating in a mentorship program here at The News Leader, Keaunna Bolden and Cierra Johnson, say the law would encourage deaf and hearing high schoolers to interact more naturally if sign language was more prevalent in the public school system.

This is an idea whose time has come and should be signed into law quickly.

Opinions expressed in this feature represent the majority opinion of the newspaper's editorial board, consisting of: Roger Watson, president and publisher; David Fritz, executive editor; Cindy Corell, community conversations editor; and Jim McCloskey, editorial cartoonist.

Thanks to Wayne and Alice Frick

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