U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen, a 2nd District Democrat who represents Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, earlier this month introduced the Signing is Language Act, legislation to ensure dual-language learners who use sign language to communicate at home have access to the resources needed to succeed in the classroom.
While the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015 substantially improved access to educational resources for dual-language learners, native sign language users do not qualify as English Language Learners (ELL) under the law. The Signing is Language Act expands the definition of “English learner” to include an individual whose native language is sign language. This change ensures these students are counted as English learners for determining the appropriate level of federal funding for state English language programs.
According to an announcement from Larsen’s office, dual-language learners — who speak little to no English at home — are raised in homes that primarily use sign language to communicate but do not have access to the same resources in public schools as other English language learners. The lack of support like one-on-one language instruction and speech therapy for these students can impede English proficiency, with future academic and professional consequences.
“All children deserve a high-quality public education, regardless of the language used at home,” said Larsen. “After learning about barriers to students’ ability to learn in Washington state, I committed to improving dual-language learning resources for these students to ensure they have the tools necessary to succeed in the future.”
“English Language Learning is an essential program for children who use a different language at home, and is now made available by this bill to deaf and hearing children who use sign language at home,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO, National Association of the Deaf. “This bill delivers long awaited equality in learning to children who use sign language.”
Read the full text of the Signing is Language Act here.