Virginia students will be able to take American Sign Language for foreign-language credit next year.

Largely because of the efforts of Loudoun Valley High School students, state lawmakers voted last week to add ASL to the list of courses students can take to fulfill a foreign-language requirement. Loudoun Valley students coaxed Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell (R-Staunton) into introducing the bill during the legislative session.

Although the students also contacted other lawmakers, Bell said he felt a personal connection to the bill because of his background as a special-education teacher.

“This makes it much easier for hearing-impaired students who struggled to meet the foreign-language requirement,” said Bell, now retired from teaching. “And it breaks down the barrier between the two communities.”

The bill does not mandate that schools offer the course but requires that if a school board offers ASL, it must grant academic credit equivalent to other foreign-language courses.

The bill passed the House 95 to 3 and was voted through the Senate 34 to 6.