And Then There Were None


With the departure of two American Sign Language (ASL) teachers at Potomac Falls (PFHS) in the span of the last eight months, many are questioning the future of ASL at PFHS, and if the class will even be offered next year. 

According to NPR, there is an estimated shortage of around 300,000 teachers and staff across the United States. Furthermore, the bulk of the shortage is comprised of teachers in the STEM fields and special education. Schools across the country, from Dearborn, Michigan to here at Potomac Falls, are struggling to find teachers to keep up with the growing trend of bigger classroom sizes and less one-on-one time.

This issue has been simmering for quite some time, but the issue did not erupt until schools came back from virtual learning following the pandemic. Many school districts across the US have been dealing with the obstacle of attempting to find qualified ASL teachers for years. Even though the US Bureau of Labor has estimated a 20% increase in demand for special education teachers in the next decade, the national teacher shortage has placed another barrier in learning, and there is no sign of improvement showing.

ASL is a unique language – apart from relying on your hands to convey a sentence, more than 500,000 people speak ASL in the US. In fact, ASL only makes up around 1-2% of the foreign language enrollments in high schools nationally. Nevertheless, junior Emma Simanski jumped up to take ASL once she saw it was offered here, choosing it as one of her electives. “I have always thought it seemed like an interesting and useful language in everyday life,” said Simanski, “The thought of being able to make someone’s day a little easier in working in customer service, being able to help, is really exciting to me.”

Simanski was inspired to put a smile on one’s face. “My favorite part is when I get something and when I am able to understand a conversation with the teacher. When I am asked a question, I can say more than just a one word answer, and they can understand me,” said Simanski. However, now all Simanski can do is watch the conversations she would have normally had with her teacher through her computer. 

The ASL teacher last year, Chapman Hom, retired. He was replaced by Sheila Hall-Price, who had to move to a different high school in Loudoun County after a staffing issue occurred. According to PFHS principal Brandon Wolfe, administrators have looked nationwide for a new ASL teacher but have not found a replacement. Due to this, the administrators have worked with staff at the county level to “find online programs that met the [Virginia Department of Education] standards as acceptable replacements for students to continue their coursework.” This includes assignments either on Edmentum or the Florida Virtual School, where students will finish their ASL course for the remainder of the year. 

For someone who is passionate about learning new things and wanting to help others through service, it is difficult for Simanski to adjust to this new reality. “The transition from teachers has been different. Mr. Hom and Ms. Hall-Price had different teaching styles, and it was difficult to adjust to that [at first], but I was very thankful to be able to finish,” said Simanski. “ASL now is like a study hall period for us … which is a little bit disappointing, but I am glad they found a solution for us.”

Simanski is worried that the ASL program here at PFHS will not be offered to students next year. Despite the difficult situation, Simanski is not looking to give up learning ASL any time soon. “I am hoping to continue to study it at my own time, even in college,” said Simanski.