Reading the Court Decisions on Dyslexia

The outcome of several lawsuits during the past year may well have a lasting impact on educational services for dyslexic students in the United States and Canada.

In Vancouver BC, Jeffry Moore was a bright child who was severely dyslexic. In 1994 the centre for special needs students in North Vancouver where he had been referred for help was closed to save money. Officials told the Moores to find a private school if they wanted the help to continue. To a bus driver and a secretary, the bills were a huge burden.

The filed a human rights complaint, and are to receive compensation for 10 years of private school tuition. The tribunal which awarded the compensation has also ordered the education ministry to make sure that school systems are delivering services to all eligible learning disabled students, and to verify that the amount of funding is adequate for all students. While it is still possible for school districts to argue that providing such services would constitute an extreme financial hardship on the community, it is no longer possible to curtail services to learning disabled students as an easy way of saving money.

In New Jersey, a dyslexic Jersey City student reached a confidential settlement with his local school board for failing to provide educational services to teach him to read for 10 years. However, his case against the state department of education is still pending. The United States District Court in Newark found that the NJ Department of Education is specifically responsible for seeing that students receive appropriate educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and that monetary damages can be awarded. The state had conducted an investigation into the matter earlier, but failed to address the issues of educating a dyslexic learner. At one point, reading instruction for this student had been whole language based, which the publisher of the text specifically stated was of no value to dyslexic learners. This was the second legal maneuver by the NJ Department of education to avoid liability – the case is still pending. The student is now an adult.

A settlement in Oregon on behalf of dyslexic students concerning special accommodations on standardized tests will affect only about 4,000 students directly, but may have implications for how standardized testing is administered elsewhere. Citing a high failure rate of dyslexic students on the test, a group of parents filed suit claiming that test practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court ruled that students with dyslexia will be able to use computers and spell check. Some students will be allowed to use calculators. Where needed, tests will be read aloud to students by a helper, and students can speak their answers to a machine.

That’s a lot of time, money, and effort spent on lawyers, courts, and a heavy emotional and educational toll on the youngsters. Dyslexia is a learning disability which has specific methods available for remediation, and for which there are a lot of resources and research available. Maybe if those responsible for educating all students spent resources on actually teaching dyslexic students to read, instead of on legal maneuvers to avoid responsibility for doing so, we’d have better educated students at a lower public and personal cost.
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