Does It Violate The First Amendment For A School To Ban A Deaf Student From Signing His Name Because The Sign Resembles A Gun?

August 28th, 2012

Brian Spanjer, is a three-and-a-half year-old at a school in Grand Island Nebraska. Brian is deaf, and can communicate through sign langauge. However, one sign he commonly makes–his name–looks like he is making a gun with his hands. And the school has a policy that bans “any instrument…that looks like a weapon.” Amazingly, the school has included the child’s hands, signing his name, as an “instrument.”

If this story is accurate, the school determined that the student signing his name violates the policy! And he has to change how he signs his name!

What did the school official say? “We are working with the parents to come to the best solution we can for the child.”

Lawyers from the National Association of the Deaf are coming to help. Though, I wonder if there are any First Amendment issues here.

Sign language is speech (and indeed, I think the only type of speech this child can communicate with). I don’t know that limiting speech in this context falls under the rubric of Tinker, as he isn’t disrupting class, and it would be unreasonable to think a three-year-old signing his name would be disrupting.

The story is quite remarkable. Poor kid.

H/T Clark Neily