Deaf boy forbidden to use his own name sign

Aug 29, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

A deaf 3-year-old Nebraska boy has been told that the way he signs his name — Hunter — violates the school’s weapons policy and he must change it. Is there more to the story? Read on.

Hunter Spanjer is a deaf student at a preschool within the Grand Island public school district in Nebraska, and his parents reported that the district has taken issue with the name sign Hunter uses. The district has a strict “weapons in school” policy which forbids the usage of anything resembling a weapon or a gun — allegedly including hand gestures.

Name signs

A name sign is a sign that only another deaf (or hard of hearing) person can bestow upon you. “It is best to get your name sign from a skilled native signer who is familiar with the deaf people in your area and knows whether a particular name sign is already being used,” states Often it combines a letter of your name with another verb or noun, but most are unique and quite special. This is the point that many take an issue with.

“A deaf (or hard of hearing) person is the only one who can assign someone a sign name,” explained Cynthia, mom of one. “Your sign name can change over time but the deaf community, along with having their own language, has their own culture. This school is literally demanding a 3-year-old change his name (the way he identifies himself) because they are ignorant of, and are showing no initiative, in learning about his culture.”

“Utterly ridiculous”

Most that we spoke to thought the school district had far overstepped its bounds with this declaration (which they have yet to confirm). “My son had delayed speech and we started off communicating with sign language,” shared Katrina, mom of one. “Ironically his name starts with an L. Do you know what the letter L looks like in sign language? That's right, a gun — just turned up toward the sky. If this was happening to us, I would fight them all the way and make them see how utterly ridiculous this is. So do all children who make hand movements like a gun get in trouble or just those who use it as a form of communication? Leave this child be — he is a child and this is his only form of communication.”

Aubrey from Missouri agrees. “You are asking a family to change their child's name because of a school policy. If he was hearing and said his name verbally would the issue be the same? I'd guess not. His name is not offensive.”

Statement from the school district

The district denies the allegations, although they cannot comment specifically on Hunter’s case. In a statement given to Fox News, they write, “Grand Island public schools is not requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name.”

We can hope that the story is not true, or perhaps a specific employee was ignorant of the rules. Regardless, this child has the right to sign his name as it was given to him, just as his parents have the right to say his name.

More on sign language

Fun ways to teach your child sign language
Using sign language to teach toddler manners
Benefits of baby sign language