Mississippi Passes Law Recognizing ASL for Foreign Language Credit

American Sign Language is set to be recognized as a foreign language credit in Mississippi high schools starting July 1.

The driving force behind Senate Bill 2339 is Miranda Loveless, a high school teacher in Pearl River County. Loveless, who teaches art and ASL at Pearl River Central High School, developed a passion for ASL as a teenager, leading her to pursue a career as a special education teacher.

In her own words, Loveless expressed her aspiration for the new curriculum to promote inclusivity within the community, regardless of individuals’ hearing abilities.

The new legislation mandates the state Board of Education to create a curriculum focusing on sign language studies, allowing such courses to fulfill foreign language academic credits required for high school graduation.

The inspiration for the bill stemmed from Loveless’s realization of the absence of efforts to designate ASL as a foreign language in Mississippi schools. She collaborated with state Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, whose grandson had previously enrolled in one of Loveless’s sign language classes.

Senator Hill emphasized the potential of the law to motivate hearing individuals to pursue careers as interpreters for the hearing impaired, highlighting the importance of sign language communication.

Furthermore, the enactment of the law is part of a broader initiative to address the inadequate support for children with disabilities, such as deaf students, in Mississippi schools. Chauncey Spears, whose daughter is deaf, believes that recognizing ASL as a foreign language credit will benefit deaf students whose primary language is ASL.

A key issue identified by Spears is the lack of proper assistance for deaf students, particularly in terms of teacher training, leading to academic challenges.

Additionally, efforts have been made by parents and advocates at the Mississippi School for the Deaf to advocate for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to be classified as English language learners, acknowledging the distinction between ASL and written English required in educational settings.

Despite the necessity for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to learn written English for academic purposes, the implementation of ASL as a foreign language credit marks a significant step towards addressing the educational needs of these students.

Spears envisions the curriculum change as a crucial initial step towards enhancing educational practices and resources for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, emphasizing the untapped potential within this student population.

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