Tennessee passes sign language bill that would allow public school students to take ASL, American Sign Language, as a secondary language option, earning the required credits for foreign language requirements for high school graduation. Lawmakers approved and passed a similar bill in the 1990s, allowing district schools the option to encourage, offer and accept an ASL curriculum within their foreign language department but according to Sen. Becky Massey it was never implemented.
Knoxville lawmakers Republican Sen. Becky Massey and Rep. Roger Kane sponsored a new bill HB0462 originally drafted by Maryville College students Molly Ridgeway and Joshua Anderson. The new bill would require school districts to accept American Sign Language as a foreign language, meeting the second language requirement for high school graduation.
The bill, brought before Tennessee Legislation, passed in the Senate on Tuesday, April 24, 2017 and was signed by bill sponsors Knoxville lawmakers Massey and Kane on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. The bill now awaits Governor Bill Haslam’s signature.
Maryville College students Molly Ridgway, is nonverbal and her boyfriend Joshua Anderson, also a Maryville student, experience and witness the personal challenges of the deaf and hearing impaired communities daily. Ridgeway’s goal is for society to begin to understand and bridge the communication gap in school systems and society.
“Because I have a disability, I have a different perspective in which I can advocate for the people who do not have a voice…This bill will help future educators like me who are not able to communicate verbally to teach children and could increase the number of job opportunities in this field,” stated Ridgeway in a new release from Maryville College earlier this year, reported in the Knoxville News Sentinel, part of the USA Today Network.
Maryville College offered Ridgeway an educational opportunity many schools nationwide don’t currently offer. They are only one of an estimated 50 schools nationwide offering ASL Bachelors Degrees but the need for ASL certified teachers and interpreters continues to rise. Currently Tennessee is home to more than 500,000 individuals whose main language and means of communicating is American Sign Language.
Since the 1990s approximately 40 states have taken similar measures in allowing the ASL curriculum as foreign language course option. Although the majority of states can offer the class, many public school districts lack the funding to hire ASL certified teachers. Students who are deaf or have hearing impairments are covered under the American Disabilities Act, giving students the right to interpreters and IEPs, Individual Education Plans, including modifications to assignments and tests in the public school system.
Ridgeway and Anderson have paved the way for students, educators and the deaf community by bringing awareness to the need of ASL curriculum course options in public school systems. They, along with Sen. Massey, Rep. Kane and Tennessee lawmakers have helped the Maryville College students obtain their goal by passing the current bill and taking the first step in bridging an educational and communication gap within today’s society.
Learn more about Maryville College and American Sign Language and Deaf Studies Program at https://www.maryvillecollege.edu/academics/programs-of-study/american-sign-language and follow Tennessee General Assembly to keep up with legislation, politicians, Senate and House Bills, at http://www.capitol.tn.gov.
Some of the information herein was obtained http://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/education/2017/02/24/bill-would-allow-sign-language-meet-school-foreign-language-requirement/98352452/
Cheatham News (c) 2017