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

By Christopher Baxter | NJ Advance Media for
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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 Follow him on Twitter @cbaxter1. Find Politics on Facebook.

Sign Language Bill Gains Final Legislative OK

By Jennifer Sciortino | 06/11/15 3:16pm

Vainieri Huttle & Jasey Bill Allowing Sign Language to Fulfill High School World Language Requirement Gains Final Legislative OK

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Mila Jasey that would allow American Sign Language (ASL) to be used by New Jersey high school students to meet world language graduation requirements received final legislative approval 74-0 from the full Assembly on Thursday.

American Sign Language is a complete, complex language that employs signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body.

“In the United States, American Sign Language is the primary language of an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 Americans and is said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the country,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This can help hearing impaired students meet their graduation requirements, and remove some of the stigma often associated with hearing loss by encouraging all students to learn ASL.”

The bill (A-4212/S-1760) stipulates that American Sign Language can be recognized as a world language for the purpose of meeting any state or local world language requirement for high school graduation.

“Bilingualism and bimodalism are great cognitive boosters and have been shown to create better listeners and problem solvers,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris).  “By encouraging the study of sign language, hopefully we can improve overall academic performances and create a more inclusive society for those struggling with hearing impairments.”

The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.  It would take effect on July 1 of the first school year following enactment.

Read more at Sign Language Bill Gains Final Legislative OK | New Jersey News, Politics, Opinion, and Analysis 
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More New Jersey students may study sign language instead of Spanish, French or Chinese.

A bill advancing through the legislature would allow students to meet their world language requirement by studying American Sign Language. 

Attorney Julie Warshaw voiced support for the bill at Senate Education Committee hearing (photo by Phil Gregory)

Julie Warshaw is an attorney who represents children with special needs and learning disabilities. She says learning sign language can be beneficial for any student.

“With the growing need for translators in our expanding world economy, the movement towards inclusion within our classes, and the multi-sensory nature of American sign language, it has become an intriguing alternative to the typically offered languages in our schools.”

Jennifer Keyes-Maloney is a lobbyist for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. She says sign language is universal and can be an important skill for kids who can hear just fine.

“A lot of schools currently have sign language as an option particularly at the elementary grades but it also extends up into the high school and middle school arena as well.  So this is just codifying existing practice and sending a message to the entire school community that this is something you can do if you didn’t know you could.”

Sharon Seyler is the legislative advocate for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

“The high schools are telling me that most liberal arts colleges are accepting it as a foreign language requirement. I already know of districts that are already implementing this program. One of the districts that I spoke to is actually making it an honors language program for next year.”

© 2015 WBGO News

Parent sues Teaneck district over child’s bullying

AUGUST 27, 2014    LAST UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2014, 1:21 AM



TEANECK — The parent of a student who attended a township middle school last year has sued the district for allegedly failing to respond properly to the child’s bullying under state law.

Months of bullying and assaults — a kick to the stomach, punches to the head and mouth, shoving and ripped clothing — endured by the Thomas Jefferson Middle School student were not investigated and reported within the time frames required under the New Jersey Anti-Bully Bill of Rights Act, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in Hackensack last week.

The student and parent, whose full names are not given in the complaint to protect their identity, also assert in the lawsuit that the student’s civil rights were violated because he is a member of a protected class “with regard to race and speech disability.”

Julie Warshaw, the family’s attorney, said the alleged torment and assault continued through the 2012-13 school year because administrators never provided more supervision during playtime at recess, when the incidents generally occurred, and didn’t initially classify the incidents as bullying.

“It’s a matter of changing the climate and culture to protect all students,” Warshaw said on Tuesday.

She declined to elaborate on the nature of the alleged bullying or how it relates to the student’s race and disability. According to the complaint, the physical assaults were carried out by students of a different race than Warshaw’s client.

State civil rights legislation applies if the student was deprived of equal protection under New Jersey laws, the complaint states.

The lawsuit names the Teaneck Board of Education, the principal, a vice principal and a school counselor at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, as well as Barbara Pinsak, the school district superintendent.

Officials did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the lawsuit and on the district’s compliance with state guidelines on harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools. Isabel Machado, an attorney for the Teaneck Board of Education, could not be reached for comment.

The anti-bullying law, passed unanimously by the state Legislature in 2010 and signed into law by Governor Christie the following year, is considered one of the nation’s the most comprehensive.

Investigations into bullying allegations are required to begin within one school day of an incident and to be resolved within 10 days.

By law, the Board of Education is required to accept, reject or modify the superintendent’s recommendations on bullying incidents.

Last week, the Teaneck district hosted two presenters from the Anti-Defamation League for an anti-bias training session for district administrators, at a cost of up to $2,000.

Titled “A World of Difference Institute,” the program is intended to help participants “recognize bias and the harm it inflicts on individuals and society” and “confront racism, anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry,” according to the ADL’s website.


Family of Cedar Creek High School student sues over school reaction to drawing of flaming glove


Posted: Monday, May 26, 2014 8:43 pm

By DEREK HARPER Staff Writer

The family of a Cedar Creek High School senior said he was arrested, strip-searched, criminally charged, kept in juvenile detention over Christmas 2012, and banned from school for more than 14 months.

A vice principal set off the massive public safety response after seeing a drawing by the student, identified in court papers as K.J. Jr., that depicted a flaming glove.

Now, the student, his two siblings and their parents, Kevin and Teresa Jones, are suing the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, Galloway Township police, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and other officials. They accused school officials of bullying and harassing the teen, who has an Autism spectrum disorder, saying it caused their family psychological and emotional harm, anxiety, sleeplessness and stress.

They said township police acted with “deliberate indifference” in the anxious days following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that saw jumpy administrators order several school evacuations.

“In reality, we followed what we’re trained to follow,” district Superintendent Steve Ciccariello said at the time. “I’m thankful that we had a staff member that (saw something that) caused her some concern, and that she had the sense to report it to school officials. These are things that teachers receive training on all the time.”

Ciccariello declined comment Wednesday. District solicitor Louis Greco said the district was unable to comment on the suit without a release from the family.

Galloway Township Police Chief Patrick Moran said the township would vigorously defend itself in the suit, and he believes it will be successful. He said township “officers are well-trained and professional, and I am confident they acted appropriately.”

The engineering magnet program was what drew K.J. Jr., now 18 to Cedar Creek in 2010. The Jones family said in filings, “K.J. is a very gifted child in the areas of chemistry and engineering and likes to do experiments in his back yard, fixing things, building and creating things, and drawing things.”

K.J. Jr. has Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder, the family said in filings. But they claim the district’s professionals repeatedly misdiagnosed the boy, keeping him from being properly educated. The family declined further comment through their attorney Julie M.W. Warshaw.

The school first suspended K.J. Jr. after he “ignited an incendiary device on a school bus and was in the possession of two knives” on Oct. 20, 2011, according to a school district legal filing. The district suspended him until Jan. 27, 2012, the family said in filings — longer than is permitted by state law.

Then, three days after the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., family filings say geometry teacher Megan Hallman noticed a knot of students watching K.J. Jr. draw a “spaceman” in class.

The family said his individual instruction plan had permitted him to draw and doodle since he was in fourth grade. But district filings show Hallman reported the incident to a guidance counselor. K.J. Jr. was summoned the following day to Vice Principal Michael McGhee’s office, where family filings say he was coerced into revealing his sketch pad.

“In said sketchpad, there was an updated version of a drawing of a superhero glove with a flame coming out of it,” the family said in a state Administrative Law Court filing. In a separate federal filing, the family said the picture, drawn at home, was part of a 2-year-old project based on the “Ironman” movies.

McGhee called police and K.J. Jr.’s mother, saying her son was in his office. Family filings said he kept her on the phone until officers arrived at the house, followed by the fire department, emergency medical technicians and a bomb squad.

Police at the home found what the family in court filings said was some of K.J.Jr.’s science and engineering homework. Authorities at the time described them as chemicals that could produce an explosion.

Filings said police found wires, switches and thermite; an easily made compound — often from of rust and powdered aluminum — that is generally legal to possess in New Jersey. Thermite is difficult to ignite, but once ablaze, it burns at a high temperature and can cut and weld metals.

It does not explode.

After the district called police, Cedar Creek Principal James Reina issued an all-call notification to about 5,000 households in the district, while bomb-sniffing dogs from three counties unsuccessfully combed the school for explosives.

A school resource officer took K.J. Jr. to the police station, where family filings said township police did not allow him to contact his parents, and he was taken to the juvenile detention center Harborfields. There, family filings said he was stripped, cavity-searched, and held for more than two weeks.

This happened even though Moran told The Press of Atlantic City the day of the incident, “There was no indication he was making a bomb, or using a bomb or detonating a bomb.”

Once released, a court order confined K.J. Jr. to his house, where he wore an ankle tracking device. Atlantic County sheriff’s officers checked on him periodically.

Outside school, family filings said, he got less than the minimum 10 hours of instruction per week from visiting teachers, who apparently watched him carefully. At one point, they said, a school German tutor saw another drawing and tried to confiscate it.

The family said K.J. Jr. also was kept from attending a school trip to Boston in May 2013, after the district said he posed a behavior issue.

Authorities charged K.J. Jr. with possession of a weapon — an explosive device — and attempting to possess a weapon. Superior Court Judge James L. Jackson dismissed the second charge, and then found K.J. Jr. not guilty of the first charge on May 22, 2013, after a two-day trial. Jackson ruled there was no malicious intention.

The family’s suit also named assistant county Prosecutors Anne Crater and Lauren Kirk, saying they maliciously filed the attempting-to-possess charge when K.J. Jr. would not admit to possession. This came even though their expert’s eventual report said the prospective “glove device” would not be a weapon. County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Jay McKeen declined comment.

Even after Jackson found K.J. Jr. not guilty, family filings said the district still banned him from Cedar Creek. The district finally allowed him to return in March, but only on a limited basis. It was not clear from filings whether he would graduate, or if he does, whether he would walk with his class.

The family said in filings Greater Egg Harbor Regional should pay for his education until he turns 21, as well as summer instruction, all independent evaluations and experts. They also demanded an apology from all parties, as well as reimbursement for their expenses and unspecified damages and penalties.

Contact Derek Harper:


Asperger’s Syndrome Student Sues Over Arrest for Violent Drawings

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.

Doodles Lead to New Jersey Student’s Arrest

December 28, 2012
By Betsy Gome

When a 16-year-old New Jersey boy doodled in his notebook on Tuesday, December 18, he probably didn’t expect to be arrested by the end of the day. However, when school officials saw the sketches, which they state appeared to be of weapons, and the boy “demonstrated behavior that caused them to be concerned,” the police were called.

A subsequent search of the boy’s home led to his arrest because they found several electronic parts and chemicals. He was charged with the possession of an explosive device and put in juvenile detention.

The details on what was precisely in the drawings are sketchy, as are the details on the behavior that caused concern. The school claims the drawings were of weapons, but the boy’s mother told various press outlets that, “He drew a glove with flames coming out of it.” If true, then the drawing wouldn’t be out of place in the notebook of any teenager who loves comic books.

At no point in time did the boy threaten the school, school officials, or his classmates. He cooperated fully with authorities, and a search of the school itself found nothing dangerous. The boy’s mother describes him as a good boy and frequent volunteer with a passion for disassembling old things and reassembling them. School district superintendent Steve Ciccariello stated that he would not expect violent behavior from the student. Further, Galloway Township Police Chief Pat Moran recognized that “There was no indication he was making a bomb, or using a bomb or detonating a bomb.” Despite all this, the boy was arrested — all because he doodled in his notebook.

This holiday season, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation is encouraging everyone who believes in the CBLDF’s important work protecting the freedom to read comics to become a member or give a gift membership in the organization. When you do, they will contribute $10 for each new membership and $5 for every renewing membership made from now until December 31, so join today!

Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.

Website photo images courtesy of Amanda Warshaw