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JMU Changes Foreign Language Policy

Mrs. Werle teaching new signs to ASL 3 students

Mrs. Werle teaching new signs to ASL 3 students.

by Kelley Conley, Classroom Manager

James Madison University made a change to their foreign language policy in July 2015, but only after initiative was taken at Waynesboro High School. JMU counted two years of American Sign Language for credit for incoming students, but after those two credits were counted, students were required to take two years of a different foreign language at JMU. The new policy says that three years of sign language meets the minimal recommendation for foreign language requirements. The two reasons JMU did not accept ASL as foreign language credit include the following: ASL is a conceptual language, not a written language, so students do not have a traditional written component; additionally, JMU did not believe there was cultural piece to learning ASL, until the policy was changed.  Other schools in Virginia that accept sign language as foreign language credit are Radford, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia.

Mrs. Werle, who is the sign language teacher at WHS, had been working with local representatives like Dickie Bell and members of the JMU foreign language department to change the policy for over a year. “JMU wouldn’t talk to me directly; they wouldn’t answer my calls or emails,” said Werle. “I think they changed the policy because they were getting pushed from all the letters they were receiving.” JMU’s Foreign Language Director, Dr. Stephany Gould Plecker could not be reached to comment on the policy change.

In Mrs. Werle’s Sign Language 2 and 3 classes, students wrote letters to local representatives saying that sign language should be accepted like any other foreign language.  Senior, Michelle Smith even started a petition and had students sign to have the policy changed.

Senior, Natalie Grimm has taken three years of ASL, and is very passionate about it. “Taking sign language helped me feel as if I could communicate with more people,” said Grimm. “It’s even given me the chance to meet many different people.” She loves learning ASL so much that she plans to major in Deaf Education, Translation and Interpretation at Liberty University.

With JMU accepting ASL for incoming students, Mrs. Werle hopes it will encourage students to apply to JMU and to be proud that they took sign language in high school.


2 Responses to “JMU Changes Foreign Language Policy”

  1. Leslie Hellerman says:

    Michelle, As of October 25th, 2015, JMU did not accept ASL credits from Waynesboro High School as foreign language credit. The credits do transfer as elective credit. If you are concerned about this, I would suggest that you contact the Admissions Office at James Madison University:

  2. Michelle Letts says:

    Does this mean JMU does or does not accept ASL as a foreign language requirement?


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