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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 3:21 am | Fair 48º


Cheri Rae: No Summer Break for Students with Dyslexia

In less than a month, it will be back-to-school time, and already parents of dyslexic students are panicking, worried about what lies ahead for the next school year — even as they’ve done schoolwork with their children all summer long. As the mother of a grown son with dyslexia, I remember the anxiety that never takes a vacation. Not for 13 years, from kindergarten until high school graduation.

It’s not just the worry about whether your bright child will ever learn to read, write and spell; it’s also the exhaustion from becoming an informed and effective educational advocate in the face of much institutional resistance, the financial stress of hiring private tutors to do the work that should have happened in the classroom, and the emotional toll all of this disruption takes on our children, our families and our on-the-job performance — the time lost forever.

Before you dismiss the subject of dyslexia, please note that it affects one in five individuals. Let that sink in. That means that in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, with an estimated 15,000 students, about 3,000 dyslexic students are in need of best practices. And in the county, with an estimated 68,000 students, that adds up to more than 13,000 dyslexic students in our area who have difficulty with reading, writing and spelling — and often more.

These are bright students whose brains are wired differently, and who have many strengths that typically are not apparent in the classroom. They struggle unnecessarily, and often fail to reach their full potential. Yet they may be the next Steve Jobs, Paul Orfalea or Albert Einstein — all notable dyslexics who struggled in school.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are evidence-based approaches to identify, address and accommodate dyslexic students so they can succeed in our public schools, but locally, they are not widely known or implemented. Simple changes, including access to assistive technology, can make a huge difference in their lives. But these best practices are not consistently offered or implemented to allow these students to excel. This is not an issue of special education; it’s an issue of access to appropriate education that goes far beyond proper reading instruction, and it’s an issue everywhere.

I recently took a look at the websites for every school district in the county, as well the Santa Barbara County Education Office, and not one of them offers even a single page of information about dyslexia, resources or how it’s addressed in our classrooms.

The problem is it’s not.

Consequently, parents in our county are forced to dig deep into their pockets to pay for tutors to make up for the fact that their dyslexic children are not taught to read in our schools. Some receive private settlements for compensatory education that is never enough. Those who cannot pay or advocate successfully are left far behind, often leading to negative emotional and behavioral consequences that come at great cost to individuals and society. We’ve all heard of the school-to-prison pipeline, and dyslexia is a major underlying cause for it.

I know we can do better throughout our county, and respectfully suggest that our educational community, from the county education office to every single school district, embark on a campaign to comprehensively address dyslexia in our county schools. Our teachers need professional development, our administrators need awareness and our students need our leadership to guarantee they receive free, appropriate public education — even if they are dyslexic.

[Note: On Aug. 28, dyslexia will be an agenda item considered by the school board. Parents of dyslexic students in the Santa Barbara district are encouraged to attend the meeting and share their stories during the comment period.]

— Cheri Rae is the author of DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Students with Dyslexia, a longtime advocate and a former dyslexia consultant for the Santa Barbara Unified School District. She can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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