Md. looks into expanding sign language classes


Maryland students may soon have another option for foreign language credit: American Sign Language.

The state Board of Education decided Tuesday to further explore allowing schools to offer the class for more than elective credit. But several obstacles stand in the way, including a lack of qualified teachers.

There are more than 1,300 students in Maryland schools who are deaf or hard of hearing, but State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she expected a course in sign language would appeal to hearing students, as well as to the hearing impaired.

Board member Jo Ann T. Bell compared sign language with foreign languages and said that "Spanish and ASL are plus points on a resume," especially for emergency workers.

During the board meeting, an interpreter signed for deaf members of the audience. Grasmick, who earned her master's degree in 1965 from Gallaudet University, a leader in deaf education, signed a few words.

"My signs are very, very poor because I don't practice," she said while signing. Offering American Sign Language as a foreign language would increase enrollment in sign language classes, said Carol Ann Baglin, assistant state superintendent for the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services.

Because more students would know sign language, hearing-impaired students would be able to participate in more activities with their peers, she said.

Baglin said there is a need for skilled sign language interpreters in Maryland schools.

"A lot of [hearing-impaired] students rely on translators to have access to high-quality education," Baglin said.

About 400 Maryland students study American Sign Language, most in Montgomery County, said Colleen Seremet, assistant superintendent of the Division of Instruction. American Sign Language is also offered in Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick and Prince George's counties. All students in Maryland studying sign language earn elective credit.

John Smealie, assistant superintendent of the Division of Certification and Accreditation, said there was no certification process to teach sign language in Maryland. That would be a major obstacle if the class were offered for foreign language credit.

Board Chairman Edward L. Root said there was only one program in Maryland with a concentration in deaf education, at McDaniel College in Westminster, which he said won't be able to produce the number of sign language teachers needed if the classes are offered for credit.

Del. Nancy J. King, a Montgomery County Democrat, sponsored legislation in the General Assembly's last session to require American Sign Language to be taught as a foreign language. The bill died in committee.

Mari Perry writes for the Capital News Service.

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