The Fauquier County School Board may approve an American Sign Language course that would allow high school students to receive foreign language credits next year, school officials said.

The course would be open to all students but was designed primarily to allow hearing-impaired students to receive foreign language credits, a requirement for an "advanced" diploma, the highest level offered by the state. Many hearing-impaired students cannot pass other foreign language courses, which involve much speaking and listening.

"We heard from a lot of parents who wanted this, but we were really encouraged when we learned other districts such as Loudoun and Fairfax had it, too," said Assistant Superintendent Sandra Mitchell.

This is the second year that Loudoun County has offered an American Sign Language course at its seven high schools, said Betty Mar Little, the district's instructional supervisor for English and foreign languages. The course also is taught in Stafford and Prince William counties.

The course would be available to students at both Fauquier high schools. The School Board is to vote on the matter Dec. 9.

School officials said they would prefer to hire a certified sign language instructor. But if the $49,000-a-year position is cut in budget negotiations this winter, students could take the course at Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, said School Board member Broni Lambelet (Marshall).

"That was one of the initial concerns of the School Board," she said. "We didn't want this course attached to that position" because there may be no room for that teaching slot in the 2003-04 budget, she said.

The School Board has tentatively scheduled work sessions and public hearings on next year's budget for mid-January and early February.

School administrators and parents of some hearing-impaired students collaborated in September on the course proposal. Parents wrote letters and made calls while school officials were coincidentally contemplating such a course, Mitchell said.

"It was very fortunate that it all happened at the same time," she said. "When the parents called, we said to them, 'We're working on this very thing.' It was a collaboration."

The number of hearing-impaired students in the Fauquier system is unknown, as is how many would enroll in the course. Lynda Carscallen, director of the school system's special education department, did not return telephone calls.

"But we expect it to be very popular for all of our students," Mitchell said.

Sign language would join French, German, Spanish and Latin in Fauquier's foreign language instruction. The course would require students to know the history of the deaf culture's social, political and literary contributions.

Patty Sawyer of Warrenton lobbied school officials for the course so her daughter, Michelle, 15, a freshman at Liberty High, could receive an advanced diploma. Michelle tried Spanish at Warrenton Middle School, Sawyer said, but received low grades because of her reading and language-processing disability.

"She wants to achieve the highest level of diploma so she can be more attractive in her educational background to colleges," Sawyer said.