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The News Virginian
January 25, 2015

Waynesboro High School junior Michelle Smith wants nothing more than to go to James Madison University and pursue a career in social work.

To prepare, she knew she would have to keep up her grades, participate in extracurricular activities and write a stellar admissions essay. But what she didn’t anticipate was that her dream school would not accept her three years of American Sign Language credits to fulfill the foreign language requirement.

“I want to go to JMU and they’re making me take Spanish, even though I’ve taken three years of ASL,” said Smith, who enjoys learning sign language but had to make the abrupt change to make sure she can go to her dream school.

“She has her heart set on going to JMU and didn’t want to take another foreign language,” said Kristen Werle, Waynesboro High School’s ASL teacher.

With the help of her high school sign language teacher, therapist and mother, Smith crafted a letter and a petition she plans to send to JMU, as well as U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Timothy Kaine, both former Virginia Democratic governors.

“It is a language and there are a lot of deaf people, and I think it should be considered,” Smith said. “I mean, if you can sit in class and learn it, and actually have a conversation with someone who’s deaf, then it’s a language.”

“There’s no reason for it not to be a language or to not be considered a language,” she added.


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