Munir Muwwakkil, 14, is intelligent, his family says, but the ninth-grader reads English at a kindergarten level. Munir just speaks American Sign Language.
"They are totally ignoring my wife and I," says Munir's father, Jihad Muwwakkil. "My son is being greatly delayed here. He is suffering as an individual in this society."
While teachers at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf use some American Sign Language, students must also understand standard English. There is a difference.
A typical English sentence such as "The boy rides the red bike" could be translated in American Sign Language as "The boy bike red." Through an interpreter, Munir says he has trouble understanding his lessons because of the reading and writing involved.
Munir's parents are suing the school, demanding that the state pay for transportation to another deaf campus in Washington, D.C.
Thomasine Hardy, school director, declined to talk about this specific case, but said deaf students need to be able to read and write English to succeed.
"It's the school's intent to meet the communication needs of every child, and what we try to do is have a program which is designed to do that," Hardy says.
While the language debate continues on a national level, Munir continues his struggle to learn at the school.
During a court hearing Tuesday, a school witness testified that Munir has learning disabilities. He got a late start in the English language and started classes in North Carolina just three years ago.
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