WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Pasco County students are engaging in a spirited campaign to bring back their American Sign Language program after budget cuts nixed the class last week.
Students say just 20 days out from final exams, school administrators abruptly escorted their deaf, substitute teacher out of the building in the middle of third period.
"She was trying to say goodbyes to all of her students, they would not let her back on campus and it was just a train wreck," said Jasmine Thoui.
Thoui has been studying ASL for years, motivated to learn by her brother who is hard of hearing.
"I'm able to teach things, bring things home to my family to teach them how everything works," said Thoui.
Students are now stepping up to save the program. More than 500 people have signed an online petition.
"It's not just about us, it's about the entire deaf community because when you take away a student's access to ASL, you're taking away their bridge to the deaf culture," said Zoe Pearson.
ABC Action News asked why Arlenne Negron had to be escorted out in front of a group of students, district public information office Linda Cobbe said, "She was a substitute teacher, which means there are no due process rights. The school hadn't had a certified teacher for the class all year, so they lost the allocation due to budget constraints. She must have wanted to stay on, so she did some inappropriate things and was released."
Students believe district officials are falsely accusing Negron of helping start a petition and GoFundMe account to raise money for the program.
ASL students tell ABC Action News, they started the campaign and Negron had nothing to do with it.
Arlenne Negron sent ABC Action News a statement, it reads in part:
"During my teaching, I have learned so much from my ASL students more than I taught them. I have loved getting to know each of my student and they have such a beautiful heart. They are motivated to learn about the Deaf culture, community, and its ASL. Every minute of my teaching, I enjoyed teaching them my language and culture considering I come from the Deaf family. I have came to see that they started to gain respect for me as a Deaf teacher and for the Deaf community. I shared my experiences as a Deaf person with the ASL students to help them to understand what we go through every day. We face oppression and discrimination every day in the real world, but we become more stronger together as the Deaf community. I wanted to continue to see that in the future, but unfortunately with the teacher allocation, the ASL program was cut. I wish they would not cut the ASL program because it is a language that will help the ASL students to fill in gap between the Deaf and Hearing world, and because it will help them to understand us better, treat us better, and to respect us as human begins."
Students plan to confront Pasco County School Board members at their next meeting on May 15.