Three-year-old Hunter Spanjer is deaf. He has been told by a Nebraska public school to change his name sign, as it resembles a gun, or face expulsion.
The school's policies have outraged both parents, right groups and ordinary citizens.
Hunter's father, Brian Spanjer, told Nebraska Central News (NCN), “He's deaf, and his name sign, they say, is a violation of their weapons policy."
Hunter's grandmother, Janet Logue, told NBC News that he has used the name sign since he was 6-months-old, when the school district first started working with him. However, Hunter's parents have been informed by the Grand Island Public School that their son's name sign is a violation of the school's weapons policy.
Hunter has slightly modified the SEE (Sign Exact English) sign by crossing his fingers, which his family claims makes it personal to him. Signing Exact English (SEE) is a manual communication system used by most deaf children and based on the American Sign Language (ASL).
“It’s a symbol,” his father says. “It's an actual sign, a registered sign, through SEE.”
Grand Island resident Fredda Bartenbach said: 'I find it very difficult to believe that the sign language that shows his name resembles a gun in any way would even enter a child's mind.'
However, according to Grand Island Public School's board policy 8470, students are prohibited from possessing, handling or transmitting a “firearm, weapon” or anything that “looks like a weapon.”
The document reads, “Such items will be considered weapons for the purposed (sic) of this policy. Students who are in possession of the aforementioned articles will be subject to mandatory suspension or expulsion procedures.”
While the school has so far failed to provide an adequate explanation for how a three-year-old's crossed index and middle fingers could be grounds for expulsion from the school, a spokesperson has said it is trying to arrive at the “best possible solution” for the child.
A number of civil rights groups have criticized the school’s policies, which effectively mean that the child would either have to change the way he signs his name or be deprived of the right to education. A letter was sent to the local school district by the American Civil Liberties Union, "politely asking them to rethink their position."
Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, told The Huffington Post, “A name sign is the equivalent of a person's name, and to prohibit a name sign is to prohibit a person's name.”
Brian Spanjer has started a Facebook page to seek support for his son to be able to keep his name sign. Most of the commenters were amazed by the school’s extreme policies.
Among the many comments received, one user says, "I never realised that there were people who could be so ignorant about sign language and to treat a young child like that is unspeakable."
Another reads, "Absolute madness and blatant disability discrimination."
A petition against the school's decision can be signed here.