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Warshaw Law Firm, advocating for the educational rights of special needs children, is dedicated to protecting the rights of children with disabilities and children who are the victims of or accused of bullying, and assisting families in crisis through mediation and collaborative divorce. 

 

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Warshaw Law Firm, LLC, a client-centered firm, is dedicated to protecting the rights of children with disabilities and children who are the victims of or accused of bullying, and assisting families in crisis through mediation and collaborative divorce

Bullying Can Lead to Denial of FAPE

Julie Warshaw

Bullying has been a hot topic among schools and students across the nation and now it may become more prevalent in the area of special education.  A recent Court of Appeals case may not only allow parents to argue that bullying resulted in a denial of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), 

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Sign language approved as a foreign language in N.J. high schools

Julie Warshaw

Gov. Chris Christie signed a new law Monday requiring high schools to recognize American Sign Language as meeting world language requirements. (Robert Sciarrino | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Gov. Chris Christie signed a new law Monday requiring high schools to recognize American Sign Language as meeting world language requirements. (Robert Sciarrino | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

By Christopher Baxter | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on August 11, 2015 at 11:12 AM

TRENTON — Taking sign language in high school will now count toward students' foreign language requirements for graduation, under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Chris Christie.

The bill (S1760) requires high schools to let students fulfill their foreign language graduation requirement by taking sign language courses instead of spoken languages like Spanish or French.

According to the legislation, American Sign Language "shall be recognized as a world language for the purpose of meeting any state or local world language requirement for high school graduation."

The state's high school students are currently required to earn five world language credits — out of 120 total credits total — before they graduate. Students can bypass the requirement if they demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language.

The state Senate and Assembly 20 years ago passed a resolution urging school districts to count the study of American Sign Language as a foreign language credit. And the state Department of Education's website lists sign language as an acceptable world language.

Christopher Baxter may be reached at cbaxter@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @cbaxter1. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE BILL PASSES IN NJ

Dennis Madej

I have worked on this project for a number of years and it has finally come to fruition. Today, the New Jersey full Assembly unanimously passed the American Sign Language Bill and it heads to the Governor for signature. This Bill will enable so many students, with or without disabilities, to fulfill their high school world language graduation requirements by taking courses in American Sign Language. As many colleges and Universities are now accepting ASL from incoming students and are also offering classes in ASL, it is my hope that all ...

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Asperger's Syndrome Student Sues Over Arrest for Violent Drawings

Dennis Madej

New Jersey Law Journal 1/14/14
NJ Criminal Lawyer, NJ Criminal Attorney Violent Drawings

A student arrested over classroom doodles that alarmed the school staff in the days after last year's Sandy Hook school shootings has filed a civil rights suit in federal court.

The student, Kevin Jones Jr., who has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has an individual education plan that allows him to doodle in class because it helps him remain focused, the suit says. He is gifted in science and enrolled in a magnet engineering program, the suit says.

Jones, now 17 and a senior at Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City, was in geometry class on Dec. 17, 2012, when teacher Megan Hallman became alarmed by one of his drawings. He was taken to the office of Vice Principal Michael McGhee, who asked to see his sketchpad. McGhee became concerned about a different picture than the one that caught Hallman's attention.

The arrest was three days after the killings of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Citing that incident, the suit says the Galloway Police Department "overreacted to whatever the school district personnel informed them of with regard to [Jones'] drawing," the suit says.

According to the suit, filed Jan. 10 in Camden, the first picture was of a spaceman and the second showed the glove of a spaceman with flames shooting out of it. Media accounts at the time of the arrest quoted the superintendent, Steve Ciccariello, saying the pictures showed weapons.

McGhee contacted Jones' parents and the police in Galloway Township, where the family lives. Jones' father consented to a police search of the family home, which turned up wires, switches and thermite, a substance used to make bombs. The suit said Jones had those items for school science projects.

The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office charged Jones with possession of a destructive device and attempting to possess a weapon, the suit said. Jones was ordered held in a youth detention center for 19 days, then placed on house arrest with an ankle bracelet. During this time, an unidentified German tutor sent to Jones' home by the school district became concerned about a third drawing and tried to confiscate it, the suit says.

Superior Court Judge James Jackson dismissed the charge of attempting to possess a weapon, and following a two-day trial, Jones was found not guilty of the charge of possession of a destructive device on May 22, 2013.

The suit, which names the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office and the Galloway Police Department, says officials erred by failing to consult with Jones' case manager and child study team, who are familiar with his learning disabilities, before reporting him to the police.

It claims violations of his due process rights as a disabled student, as well as infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision and malicious prosecution. He also was subject to continued harassment from school officials in violation of the Law Against Discrimination and the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the suit says.

The suit seeks compensatory, statutory and punitive damages and attorney fees as well as an out-of-district placement for Jones at the defendants' expense.

Plaintiff lawyer Julie Warshaw, a solo in Warren, says that the drawings that prompted the reaction were consistent with the boy’s artwork from years past and that the school officials’ response appears to have been influenced by the Sandy Hook shootings.

But she says the district failed to view his behavior in the context of his special needs.

"If a child is classified or has a disability, and they exhibit behavior that his inappropriate, the school district has to determine whether or not those behaviors are a manifestation of the child's disability. And if they are, then they have to address it by doing a functional behavior plan. A child cannot be punished for a behavior that is stemming from his disability—it's discrimination," she says.

Galloway Police Chief Patrick Moran issued a statement that his department “acted responsibly with regard to the safety and well-being of everyone involved as recommended by assisting agencies, agencies that have advanced expertise in situations related to this incident. We followed proper protocol and believe that our actions were justified.”

Ciccariello, the schools superintendent, and Louis Greco, the district solicitor, did not return calls, nor did Galloway Township Solicitor Michael Fitzgerald. A spokeswoman for acting Atlantic County Prosecutor James McClain, Haleigh Walz, said the department had no comment on the suit.

HARASSMENT, INTIMIDATION, BULLYING, CYBER-BULLYING, AND RETALIATION ARE REAL

dennis madej

HARASSMENT, INTIMIDATION, BULLYING, CYBER-BULLYING, AND RETALIATION ARE REAL

Written by Julie Warshaw, Esq.

August 18, 2013- This article and Blog post is meant for educational purposes only and it is not intended to provide legal advice. No attorney client relationship is created by this article.

            Harassment, intimidation, bullying, cyber-bullying, and retaliation are real. Many students in our schools have experienced first hand the effects of such behavior and not enough is being done by school districts to educate students about harassment, intimidation, and bullying, known as HIB, to investigate properly complaints of HIB, and to institute effective measures to address the HIB behavior and to change the climate and culture of our children’s schools.

            The following are the brave words of an 11-year old client of mine, who not only had to cope with the devastating loss of his older brother, but during the same time frame, suffered first hand from physical abuse from older high school students, being called racial epitaphs, teasing by students about the loss of his brother, bullying by teachers and administrators, and his school’s failures to address HIB behaviors.  This child will forever be my hero and his strength is the reason why I will continue my mission to end HIB in our schools and to ensure that all children are safe in school.  To protect his identity, I will only refer to him as “TC.”

            T.C. in his own words wrote:

            I don’t understand what happened and why it happened to me. I am not allowed to do something I use to love doing which is school. What they did to  me makes me mad and sad because I am only a kid. I am not perfect but no one is and the things said and did to me should never happen to anyone. I feel  left out because for months I could not talk about how school was because they did not want me there. I took a lot of verbal and physical abuse, not telling at first because I thought it would go away and not wanting to have    my mom to have to deal with one more thing. I had a purpose once in my life, I had a list of things I wanted to be, wanted to do and I no longer have a purpose because I’m not sure about anything. It was a struggle waking up    and not being able to go to school on a school day because they are mad at my mom for standing up for me. Every day I have to worry about the color of my skin keeping me from the same great opportunities as others, or have to   feel like allowing myself not to speak up for myself because I will not be heard because of the color of my skin. My mom taught me that people were   all the same no matter what color they are and respect is respect. Still knowing what my mom taught me, I started not to believe it because of what they were doing to me and what they did to me. Wanting everything to stop,    the name calling (I’m no nigger, I’m T.C.), bullying, mistreatment by the kids and staff, and the abuse, I thought about killing myself. I had a way to kill myself, to hang myself, but the only thing I thought about was my mom and how sad she would be. I watched my mom cry so many times out of  frustration of what they was doing me, not being able to do anything because it seem as if the town stuck with each other. Ms. B. and Ms. K. said to me don’t never give up and trying. That stuck with me and because of that I use it to help remind me that if I kill myself they win.

             T.C. is not alone in that so many children in our schools today are suffering in silence for fear of upsetting their parents and family and for fear that if they tell someone, the bully will retaliate or that no one would listen. This is a frightening reality and it must change to protect our children.

             Last year I visited a Middle School in a very affluent town. This town spent a lot of money obtaining the best and most well known anti-bullying programs they could find. However, it does not matter if a school district has money or not. What matters is how the information about HIB is presented to students, administrators, teachers, and school personnel, and if that information is used by everyone at the school to create positive change. Here, there appeared to be a disconnect between defining what HIB was and actually recognizing the significance of it and doing something about it.

             I was waiting in the main office of the school and I noticed that there was a box in the corner that was overflowing with pieces of folded papers.  The box was labeled “Anonymous Bullying Tips.” I asked the secretary what that was and she indicated to me that it was where students could submit anonymous tips regarding bullying that they experienced or witnessed and then someone from the school as supposed to read them. She indicated to me that it was helping to crack down on bullying in the school. REALLY? How was it helping when this box was overflowing with anonymous tips and no one seemed to be reading them.

             I was appalled and not being able to contain myself, I marched right into the Vice Principal’s office and asked her to come look at the box. I asked her why these tips from students about bullying were not read and she said that they would get to it but that they felt that since there were so many tips, they could not be taken seriously.  Again, REALLY?  I, of course, could not contain myself and proceeded to lecture her about HIB and what if many of these alleged tips about HIB were really only jokes by students but what if they were not? What if only one of those tips was real? She needed to understand that even if only one of those alleged tips about HIB was real, to think about how brave that student was to write the tip, to bring that tip to school, perhaps risking someone seeing the tip, then bravely bringing that tip to the front office to place anonymously into that box, in the corner of the main office, where the secretaries question every movement of every student. How do you think that brave student would feel, who was able, without anyone seeing, place the tip into that box in the hope that the tip would be read by someone of authority and that the HIB that the student had been enduring or that another student had been suffering would be stopped and then, no one read the tip? What if that brave student was suffering so severely due to HIB that the student was considering ending his or her own life as a result of the HIB? What if that anonymous tip was that student’s last hope to obtain help against the bullying that he or she was enduring or witnessing another student endure? How could no one read those anonymous tips? The Vice Principal apologized and promised to read the tips as soon as possible. I told her that she did not owe me an apology but she did owe an apology to any brave student who put a tip in that box.

             A week later, I went back to that main office of that Middle School just to see what was going on with that box and again, the box looked as though no one had touched it. I again went to the Vice Principal and also to the Principal this time and again gave them a lecture about the bravery of a student to be able to place an anonymous tip into the box. They both agreed to read the tips themselves and they did shortly thereafter.  However, this experience in a school district that spent a lot of money obtaining and implementing anti-bullying programs, missed this simple and critical component in stopping HIB.  What if that student was T.C.?

             In T.C.’s case, it was not only students who were committing HIB against him but it was also the administrators and the teachers. In his case, an anonymous tip may not have helped but in other cases it could.  School districts need to ensure a safe and not a hostile learning environment for all students and to be educated about and to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of HIB in its schools. In many cases, all the anti-bullying programs will fail unless the climate and culture of the schools themselves are addressed. Teachers and administrators are role models for our children and they need to act in a professional manner and civilly toward each other, even if they do not like or respect each other. The students are watching teachers’ behaviors, they are emulating what they see and hear. If one teacher talks negatively about another teacher in the hallway at school and students see and hear this, then that becomes their role model for behavior when they feel negatively about someone else. As parents, we rely upon educators to teach and model appropriate behavior and social interactions to our children. We do not expect that they will promote negative behaviors, especially in front of our children. As we begin to change the climate and culture of our schools in a positive manner to eliminate HIB behaviors, it is important to keep in mind students like T.C., who endured such unimaginable pain and suffering in silence. Teachers, administrators, school staff, and parents need to work together to recognize the insidious nature of HIB, cyber-bullying, and retaliation and to provide our children with the knowledge as to how to identify HIB and to ensure that they have a safe reliable mechanism in which to use to address these unacceptable and intolerable behaviors. 

             For more information about this important topic, to post a comment about this article, or to learn more about the Warshaw Law Firm, LLC, please visit our website at www.warshawlawfirm.com or feel free to contact us directly at (973) 433-2121.

 

 

 

 

 

American Sign Language Bill Passes the NJ Senate Education Committee

dennis madej

By: Julie Warshaw, Esq.

 This Blog post is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to provide legal advice. For more information, please visit my website at www.warshawlawfirm.com.

 On February 21, 2003, I testified at the Senate Education Committee hearing in favor of Bill 1196 introduced by Senator Allen. I have been working on aspects of my own version of this proposed Bill for quite some time and I applaud Senator Allen for her support and efforts to pass this Bill. This Bill is imperative for the Legislature to pass as it will bring American Sign Language (ASL) into high schools and it will enable students, with hearing impairments, students with other disabilities such as dyslexia, cognitive impairments, Autism, speech impediments, etc., and students without any disabilities the opportunity to learn this multi-sensory language and to receive credit toward fulfilling their graduation requirements. As stated in my prior blog posts, I hope to ensure that American Sign Language is available to all students free of charge who are interested in learning this unique language. I also hope to bring American Sign Language to students in the younger grades as well. ASL has been shown to increase communication skills in students with disabilities and it has assisted in decreasing the frustration levels and tantrums of those students who otherwise lack the ability or skills needed to communicate their needs.  The next step would be to bring this Bill to the floor of the Senate as well as to get support for it in the New Jersey Assembly. I have attached a copy of the Bill for your review. Please continue to post your comments regarding this and other topics in my blog. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at jwarshaw@warshawlawfirm.com.

SENATE, No. 1196

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

215th LEGISLATURE

 INTRODUCED JANUARY 23, 2012

Sponsored by:

Senator  DIANE B. ALLEN

District 7 (Burlington)

SYNOPSIS

     Recognizes American Sign Language as a world language for meeting high school graduation requirements.

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

AN ACT concerning world language graduation requirements and supplementing chapter 35 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes.

     BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

     1.    Notwithstanding the provisions of any law, rule or regulation to the contrary, American Sign Language shall be recognized as a world language for the purpose of meeting any State or local world languages requirement for high school graduation.

     2.    This act shall take effect immediately.

STATEMENT

     This bill provides that American Sign Language would be recognized as a world language for the purpose of meeting any State or local world languages requirement for high school graduation.  

PRESCRIPTION LABELS-BEWARE

dennis madej

By Julie Warshaw, Esq.

The information contained in this Blog post is for educational purposes only and it is not meant to give legal advice or provide a legal opinion. For more information, please contact us at info@warshawlawfirm.com or at (973) 433-2121.  

 

            As 2013 is about to begin, it is important to reexamine every aspect of our lives and try to make what we can, better. As we replace batteries in our smoke detectors and test our Carbon Monoxide detectors, it is also important to check the expiration dates of our medications. In fact, do you really know when your medications expire? The fact is, many of us do not, and typically, we rely solely on the date printed on the medication labels themselves. However, although they may be accurate, in my experience, these may not be the actual expiration dates.

            Several years ago I could not understand why I was feeling terrible, yet I was taking my medication. My doctor ordered some blood work and could not believe that the medication I was on was not working yet I was taking it every day. It had worked in the past so what was different this time? I began to investigate.  What I found was that typically, when pharmacists fill a prescription, they automatically fill it with a one-year expiration date from the date that the original prescription was filled. In other words, if a prescription is filled on January 1, 2012, the pharmacy typically will print on the label that the medication expires on January 1, 2013, one year from the date the prescription was originally filled. However, this is not always the case that the medication will be effective at its standard and expected strength for the entire year. I started asking questions and found out from several pharmacists that the manufacture’s bottles of medications that they receive from their distributors may have different manufactures’ expiration dates from the date that is printed on the medication labels that we, as consumers, receive.

             I began to ask the pharmacists for every prescription that I had filled, for them to hand write on the medication labels the actual expiration date from the manufacture’s bottles, from which they actually dispense the medication, and they did.  I found that every single time, the manufacture’s expiration dates were different than the one-year expiration date printed on the medication labels.  On a few occasions, the actual manufacture’s expiration dates were after the one-year printed date but the majority of the time, the manufacturer’s actual expiration date of the medications was within the one-year timeframe. This meant that after that actual expiration date, if you were still taking the medication based on the one-year printed expiration date listed on the label, you could be taking expired medication. 

In addition, I also noticed that with some medications that come in a box with separate foil wrapped packages inside, the pharmacy label on the exterior box with the one-year printed expiration date, also did not match the expiration or “best if used by” dates on the actual foil wrapped packages contained inside the box.  That is exactly what happened to me.  I had been relying solely on the one-year printed expiration date printed on the medication labels. However, as medication expires, some lose their strength and effectiveness and therefore do not work the way they are intended and depending upon the circumstances and the type of medication, that could pose a health risk to some people.

                I am sure you are asking, why is this attorney discussing expiration dates on medications? Well, the answer is simple. I have children of my own and I represent children with special needs. Often times my clients’ children are on medications and many of us would not think to question the expiration dates on the medications we obtain for ourselves and our children. An expiration date seems very basic and not something to question. However, I have come to learn through experience that it is as critical as opening up the medication bottles at the pharmacy and examining the actual medication being distributed to you. Mistakes can happen and they do but being alert to these potential issues can protect you and your family from risk of harm.  I wish everyone a safe, healthy, and happy New Year. Please feel free to comment on this or any other posts. If you need any further information, please contact us at info@warshawlawfirm.com or (973) 433-2121. 

 

 

 

EFFECTIVENESS OF ON-LINE CLASSES AND STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

dennis madej

BY Julie Warshaw, Esq.

This blog post is for educational purposes only and it is not intended to be relied upon for legal advice. For more information, please visit our website at www.warshawlawfirm.com or contact our office at (973) 433-2121.

            Recently there was an article written by Nirvi Shah dated October 9, 2012, entitled, “New Center: Concerns About Online Options for Special Ed. Students.” See http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/speced/2012/10/new_center_serious_concerns_ab.html?qs=new+center.  This article raises some real and growing concerns regarding the effectiveness of on-line courses for students with disabilities. This article cites concerns with, “Inconsistent policies from state to state and district to district for providing special education and related services to students with disabilities in online environments.” Id. It also cites as a concern, “Major gaps in basic and advanced accessibility for students with disabilities.” Id.  Further, “’As some states have begun to include online learning as a graduation requirement, this poses a significant civil rights issue.’” Id. This article also raises the concern about monitoring the qualifications and training of on-line teachers and courses as well as the fact that they do not have any nation wide data as to the effectiveness or even usage of on-line courses for students with disabilities. Id.  As more and more on-line learning takes place, standards need to be developed as to the training of on-line teachers, guidelines need to be established as to the curriculum, efforts need to be made to include students with disabilities but only if the courses actually meet their individual needs and only in accordance with their Individual Education Program (IEP). 

            It is imperative for States, School Districts, Curriculum Directors, individual Child Study Teams, and parents to take a proactive stand on this issue. Students with disabilities cannot be lumped into one category, as there are many types and facets of disabilities that need to be taken into account when requiring students to complete on-line courses as a graduation requirement. If on-line courses are appropriate for a particular student with disabilities and it does not in any way violate a student’s right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), then on-line courses could be considered in addition to or as an alternative for a traditional teacher instructed classroom setting.  However, I caution that if an on-line course is available in the area of learning to be studied, that research is conducted about that course to determine the level and training of the teachers, the reputation of the program in your State or in other States, the nature of the work to be completed, the effectiveness of their testing methods or how they measure progress and learning for each student, what mechanisms are in place in the event that the student is not learning or understanding the material being taught, the cost of the programs, and the ability to transition into another more effective course in the event that the on-line course does not meet the needs of a student with or without disabilities. To just require students with disabilities, to take on-line courses as a requirement of graduation, without any other alternative or the ability to modify coursework, time tables, or assignments, could easily be seen as a violation of those students’ civil rights and a violation of FAPE.

            However, with that said, it does not necessarily mean that all on-line courses or methods of learning are bad or could lead to a violation of students’ rights. There are many effective and competent on-line courses that do meet individual student’s needs. There are several programs that address the needs of students with for example, Central Auditory Processing, ADHD, Dyslexia, or issues with focusing and concentration, visual or auditory learners, and learning issues for students with Autism, that have proven to be not only effective but have helped students learn in ways they would not be able to in a traditional classroom.  Therefore, keeping in mind the potential downfalls of on-line learning, States and School Districts can now formulate curriculum that address those concerns and create safety measures with intensive approval processes to ensure that on-line learning can be maximized by students, with or without disabilities.  Please feel free to post your comments about this and other posts. For more information on this or other topics, please contact me at jwarshaw@warshawlawfirm.com or at (973) 433-2121. 

I SUPPORT THE AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE PROPOSED BILL

dennis madej

I support the American Sign Language Proposed Bill

Blog Post by Julie Warshaw, Esq.

This blog post and article are for educational purposes only and they are not intended to be relied upon for legal advice. For more information, please visit our website at www.warshawlawfirm.com

As many of you know, I am an attorney and my mission is to help children with learning disabilities, learning differences, allergies, medical conditions, and special needs. I have drafted and am seeking support for my proposed Bill to require New Jersey schools to recognize American Sign Language as a world language and require New Jersey schools, not to pay for it, but to offer the option for high school students to take classes in American Sign Language either in District, out-of-District, or on-line, and to enable students to receive credits toward fulfilling their high school world language graduation requirements.  Many on-line classes for American Sign Language are free of charge or offered for a reasonable fee. I want to make sure that all students, with or without a hearing impairment, with or without a disability, and with or without a financial hardship, have access to American Sign Language. For more detailed information about this proposed Bill, I have outlined them in an earlier post dated June 12, 2012 and below is an updated version. At this point, I need your support. Please send me your comments about this proposed Bill and as an individual or if you are with a group or organization, please indicate your support for this proposed Bill. You can also email me directly at jwarshaw@warshawlawfirm.com.  Help make this proposed Bill a reality in New Jersey. I look forward to reading your comments!  For more information on this and other important topics, please contact our law firm at info@WarshawLawFirm.com or at (973) 433-2121.  

 

Should New Jersey School Districts Allow American Sign Language to Replace Traditional Languages to Fulfill High School Graduation Foreign Language Requirements to Students in Addition to Those Who Are Hearing Impaired?

By: Julie Warshaw, Esq.

             In 1995, the New Jersey State Assembly and the Senate passed Senate Resolution SR-80 and Assembly Resolution AR-103, which recognized American Sign Language and the Deaf Culture and urged the State institutions and high schools to give foreign language credit to those who completed an American Sign Language course of study. However, these Resolutions only made recommendations to schools and they failed to address other students or any other disabilities, aside from persons with hearing impairments. To date, no Bill has been proposed on this topic mandating that schools offer this option for students with hearing impairments, students with other disabilities, or for students without any disabilities.  Currently, I am pursuing the proposal of a Bill before the New Jersey State Legislature on this topic.  It is my belief, with the support of several groups, organizations and individuals in the field of special education, that if schools must continue to require that students meet certain criteria to fulfill their foreign language graduation requirements, high schools should offer or allow the option to substitute, American Sign Language, in lieu of a traditional foreign language, to students, with or without disabilities.  To enable all students’ access to American Sign Language is a first step in removing the stigma that persons with disabilities comprise a segregated population. 

            Students with disabilities typically have a 504 educational plan or are classified and a document called an Individualized Education Plan or IEP is implemented. This legal document sets forth the child’s disabilities, test scores, relevant medical information, evaluations by educators, child study team members, and/or private evaluations. It also establishes an educational program for the student and it outlines the services and/or modifications that the child will receive to address the student’s individual educational, physical, social, and emotional needs.  This document also sets forth goals and objectives that must be met by the school district.  Since many students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, central auditory processing, memory issues, cognition, decoding, visual distortions or deficits, and speech and language deficits, receive modifications in their assignments, class work, test taking time, etc. modifications in their foreign language requirements should also be included in their IEP or 504 designation. 

            In addition, students with learning disabilities often learn and retain information differently than other students. For example, students with learning disabilities benefit from repetition, daily reviews of prior classroom discussions, smaller class sizes, more individualized teaching, and multisensory teaching methods and techniques. Many students may need to see, hear, or use manipulatives to grasp concepts that other students can absorb through a standard oral lecture.  Multisensory teaching is at the heart of American Sign Language (hereinafter referred to as “ASL.”) because it is visual, cognitive, and manipulative requiring students to use hand and facial gestures to communicate.  In contrast, traditional “Romance” languages typically taught in the school districts are often based on grammar, decoding, and verbal skills of pronunciation.  For a student who has trouble reading due to dyslexia or memory issues, it is difficult enough for them to learn to read English or their native language no less a foreign language with varying spellings, grammar rules, pronunciations, inflections, and intonations.  To require a student with these types or similar disabilities to complete a traditional foreign language requirement, without any other option that may better meet their needs, sets the student up for failure rather than for success. To allow high school students, with or without hearing impairment, to take ASL courses to fulfill their foreign language graduation requirement gives students with disabilities a fighting chance to succeed, it would likely lead to better learning, comprehension, and retention of the language, and students could acquire needed skills that could lead to future employment.  

            It is also important to note that is the third most used language in America and since the initiative of inclusion, many hearing impaired students have been integrated into public schools and many schools for the hearing impaired that taught ASL no longer exist. This in theory is a great idea but the reality is that these students may not be able to fully and freely communicate with “mainstream” students because other students have never learned ASL. This is a form of social isolation. To work toward equality and true inclusivity, school districts need to recognize the significance of ASL, its teaching benefits, and its need in the workplace.  Due to a failing economy and a global marketplace, there is a need to communicate with a universal language, and to interpret speeches and dialogues in various cultures and languages.  Many laws mandate that an interpreter be available to assist the hearing impaired. Since many private schools for the hearing impaired have closed, the opportunity to acquire ASL skills is limited but the need throughout the world has increased. Therefore, there is a likely need for people trained in this language.

                There appears to be support for ASL being offered to students in New Jersey high schools. The National Council of State Supervisors for Languages indicates on their website under State Reports entitled, “American Sign Language (ASL) as a Foreign/ World Language Summary of State Responses November 2010,” twenty-three (23) states responded in the affirmative that ASL is recognized as a world language and most of those states allowed credit for ASL as a world language toward fulfillment of high school graduation requirements. New Jersey specifically responded, ”ASL can be used to fulfill foreign language requirements, which are determined by local education agencies.”  Further, pursuant to the State of New Jersey Department of Education website regarding World Languages, it states, “The choice of languages might include, but is not limited to, the study of commonly taught European languages (e.g., French, Italian, Spanish), classical languages (e.g. Latin, Greek), less commonly taught languages (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Russian), heritage languages (e.g. Arabic, Haitian Creole, Korean) and American Sign Language (ASL).” It further states with regard to Special Needs Students that, “If a student’s disability entitles him./her to receive special education services, the study of world languages should be included in the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), wherein appropriate modifications are delineated.”

Further, the State of New Jersey Department of Education’s website also refers to the New Jersey Statutes Annotated, specifically N.J.S.A. 18A:35-4.18, which states in part,  “Graduation Credits- This law enacted in August 2001 provides students in public school the opportunity to receive instruction in and graduation credit for a world language not taught in the public school district.”  This website also sets forth a sections entitled,  “Guidelines for Organizations Seeking Approval of Instructional Programs Offering World Languages Not Taught in Public School Districts,” “Procedures to be used by New Jersey School Districts for Approval of Instructional Programs Offering World Languages not Taught in Public School Districts,” and “Non-Public School World Languages Program Application Form.”  Clearly, New Jersey is receptive to the notion that ASL can be considered a world language and there is a process in place to obtain instruction in ASL and there is an application process. Then it is logical to ask, why is ASL still not recognized or offered in most school districts in New Jersey?  In an article by Michael Walsh, The Hartford Courant, entitled, “Students May Get World Language Credit for Sign Language,” dated April 3, 2011, high school students in Connecticut supported a Bill in their State Legislature that proposed offering ASL in the schools, no longer as a language arts course, but as a world language course. Harvey Corson, Vice President of the Connecticut Association for the Deaf indicated that, “Connecticut is the only state that considers sign language as part of language arts.”  He also noted that ASL is not just “’signed English.’” The Bill was supported by Senator Michael McLachlan, Representative Joseph Taborsack.  Mary Silvestri, a high school ASL teacher was quoted as saying, “’More ASL classes would be set up by interested schools, resulting in more people learning ASL…The more people learning and using ASL, the more people we can communicate with in our community.’”  Therefore, there appears to be some clear recognition of ASL as an acceptable world language that would qualify to fulfill the graduation requirements.

            Cost and practicality must also play a role in this discussion. School districts have limited resources and are trying to stretch every dollar they can to accommodate the number of children in their care.  However, without getting into the legal ramifications of potential violations of the American Disabilities Act and other civil rights statutes, it is logical to assume that a student’s right could be violated if ASL is their only form of communication and the district did not offer ASL. For purposes of this discussion, let us assume that ASL is not the students’ only form of communication but rather, due to their disabilities or just sheer interest in learning ASL, public school districts should be mandated to offer a way to accomplish this goal.  There are several options that could be considered. One such option is to hire a teacher certified in ASL and offer the course to all students, with or without disabilities, other than just to students with hearing impairments, who require ASL to be offered to them.  This will likely be unfeasible and not a practical scenario.  Another option for school districts to consider is to select programs outside of the school district such as on-line courses or courses offered in other school districts. Districts could potentially share their resources and provide centrally located courses, summer courses, or independent study programs that meet the Department of Education’s standards as well as the, “Requirements for Teaching American Sign Language,” written by Therese Sheehan, Carol Albritton, and Cheri Quinlan, dated May 2011 and promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Education.  These requirements also reference teaching ASL to children K-12 world language programs. It is important to note that many parents already teach their children rudimentary sign language as infants and toddlers to communicate their needs until they develop spoken words.  Therefore, some children may already be familiar with ASL at a young age.

Another option would be accredited or approved on-line courses, many of which are free of charge (such as currently offered by the American Sign Language University, ASL Browser, ASL Pro, and Start American Sign Language) or at a cost (such as currently offered by Signing Online and Brigham Young University), could be taken by high school students at the expense of the families, with allowances made for indigent or financial hardships.  Another option would be to work with local universities or colleges that offer ASL courses and design an appropriate course through the use of interactive webnars to teach and participate in the course, with standards established for examinations.  Some districts offer what is called Option II, wherein students can take on-line courses to fulfill other such graduation requirements or students can get credit for high school courses by participating in activities outside of school.  It is imperative that school districts think outside the proverbial box and design innovative and creative solutions using the framework, already provided by the New Jersey Department of Education, and today’s technologies to assist high school students, with or without disabilities, in satisfying their foreign language graduation requirements through the study of ASL. For more information on this and other important topics, please contact our law firm at info@WarshawLawFirm.com or at (973) 433-2121.