Navigating Dyslexia in Public Schools

We aren’t going to lie, this won’t be easy. But it will be worth it. 

Get Support. Once you determine that you think your child might have dyslexia, you are going to need support from other parents who have been in your shoes. Visit our Chat Group: Decoding Dyslexia-TN facebook group. This will give you a place of support to ask questions and get answers immediately. We’re here for you!

Dyslexia Identification

Every public school in the state of Tennessee, per state law, is supposed to be screening kids for the “characteristics of dyslexia.” Schools can’t diagnose, but they can screen for “characteristics.” The wording you use is very important. 

What the law says: 

  • LEAs (districts) SHALL (must) use a universal screener that includes phonological and phonemic awareness, sound symbol recognition, alphabet knowledge, decoding skills, rapid naming and encoding skills.
  • the school should be automatically doing this, however, a parent/guardian, teacher, counselor or school psychologist can also request this screening at ANY time. 

If a child shows these characteristics, what happens next? 
Section 1(c) says:
The LEA shall:
– Notify the student’s parent/guardian
– Provide the student’s parent/guardian with information and resource material about dyslexia
– Provide the student with appropriate dyslexia-specific intervention (see Helping Your Child)
– Monitor the student’s progress

If your school says: “We don’t recognize dyslexia”

You say (in writing):
 
Tennessee state law and federal law both say dyslexia is a recognized disability, but what I’m actually formally asking you to do is evaluate if my child needs school services in order to access a free and appropriate public education under the IDEA category of Specific Learning Disability in the Area of Reading, under which dyslexia falls.
 
In fact, Tennessee state law takes that a step further and says that you must screen my child for dyslexia, and if they show the characteristics of dyslexia, you must provide dyslexia-specific intervention. Has that been done?
 
Kindly respond to this email in writing by the end of the week.
Note: If the school happens to call you to discuss, follow up with an email, in writing, to recap the conversation.
 

I got them to do the screening, what now? 

Students with dyslexia can be served in general education or special education. The “where” doesn’t matter so much as the “what.” You want to ask yourself two questions: 

  1.  Is my child receiving dyslexia specific interventions? 
  2. Is my child making adequate progress? (the word adequate is important, use it when speaking with your school) 

If your child has been screened, is in dyslexia specific intervention, and is making adequate progress (working toward closing the reading gap), you’re good! 

If, however, any of the three of those things are not happening, you need to escalate things. 

Step 1:Talk with your child’s teacher. Let your child’s teacher know that you plan to put in a request with the school for an evaluation for services because you are concerned your child may have dyslexia/a learning disability. You’ll also want to ask what RTI tier your child is in, what intervention is being used, and request (in writing) your child’s RTI2 screener report plus any progress monitoring data (you have a right to this data).  

Step 2: Request an S-Team meeting. After speaking with your child’s teacher in step 1, the teacher may put this request in for you. An S Team is a “Support Team” meeting where you will talk about your concerns for your child. It is like a pre-IEP team meeting. Usually parents, teachers, administrators, school psychologists and maybe a special education teacher will attend. Once at the S-Team meeting, the team (of which you are an important part) may decide to request an Evaluation for a Specific Learning Disability (which is dyslexia, dyslexia is SLD-Reading …these two terms mean the same thing).  This part is important – your child does NOT need to be in RTI2 Tier 2 or 3 for you to request an S Team, Dyslexia Screener or an evaluation. You have the right under federal IDEA law to request these things. It is important to note that the process from requesting an S-Team meeting to getting an evaluation back can take several months, but it should begin within 60 days of your written request. 

Step 3: Build Your IEP Binder. Visit our page Building your IEP Binder and begin to gather all the information you will need for your S-Team meeting and the long evaluation process. Collect report cards, tests and class-work examples of your child’s reading, writing, spelling and math. Even video your child reading or writing. This will help you have evidence of your child’s struggles.

Step 4:  Learn your legal rights under federal and state special education law.

Step 5Educate yourself on how to advocate for your child and what you ask for.

  • Also see our page 12 Tips to Remember During an IEP Meeting.
  • Educate yourself on typical accommodations.
  • Consider taking an advocacy class via TN STEP or contacting TN Voices for Children (or another advocacy agency).
  • Learn the difference in school pull-out services, accommodations and modifications. These are some words that you will become very familiar with if your child does, in fact, have a learning differences.
    • Pull out services usually consists of reading/writing help via a small group and/or one-on-one setting.
    • Accommodations are a ramp for learning, such as audiobooks or extra time. These allow your child to do the same work as others, but with a ramp. Think of accommodations as a ramp for a person in a wheelchair. Your child will get to the same place as others, but via a slightly different path.
    • Modifications are something to be very leery about agreeing to do. Modifications actually modify the curriculum, such as giving the child easier reading curriculum. This could potentiality lead down a path to not getting a general education diploma in high school, so be very cautious of modifications.
  • Ask your school what reading programs they use in special education for students with dyslexia. See our Programs that Work page. Public Schools are required to provide dyslexia-specific interventions for students with characteristics of dyslexia (see the Tennessee Dyslexia Guide above.)
  • Connect with DD-TN! We’re here to help! We’ve all been there!

 Step 5: Get results back from your child’s screener or evaluation. Depending on what the S-Team decides, you will get results back on your child’s Dyslexia Screener and/or maybe her evaluation if the team deemed it appropriate. There can be a lot of information to digest. Look over it carefully. Remember that public schools do not diagnose dyslexia, but rather “identify” a “Specific Learning Disability in the Area of Reading.” That’s dyslexia, but few will say it. We know, it’s frustrating, but using the school’s language here will get you further. SLD is the category in federal IDEA law that dyslexia falls under, so that’s why schools use that terminology. Understood.org has a great explanation of Diagnosis vs. Identification.  It is worth reading.

Step 6: Work with the school to see what your child needs. If your child is identified as having “Characteristics of Dyslexia” then he has the right under Tennessee Law to have access to a Dyslexia Specific intervention. Period. That’s whether he has an IEP or not.  Please see TN Dyslexia Law & Official Guide. If your child has a full evaluation and is identified as having a “Specific Learning Disability” (the disability category wherein dyslexia falls), and it “adversely impacts” your student’s ability to access the curriculum, he or she MAY be eligible for Special Education Services. 

Step 7: Consider an Outside Evaluation.  Please note private evaluations can be very expensive with some ranging from $750 to over $1500.  Please also note that private evaluations are NOT binding on a school. They are only required to “consider” the findings under the IDEA. If you are frustrated with your schools evaluation or screener, many consider a private evaluation. Here’s a list of some Tennessee private practitioners who can help. If you seek out a practitioner on your own, make sure to ask, specifically, if he/she diagnoses dyslexia (some do not).

Running into Roadblocks? 

You have options, and do not hesitate to use them. First, the regulations for Part B of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Tennessee law, and the Tennessee State Board of Education rules and regulations set procedures for the three dispute resolution options available:  Administrative Complaint, Mediation, and Due Process Hearing. 

Find out more about them and how to file here: https://www.tn.gov/education/legal-services/special-education-legal-services/legal-dispute-resolution-processes.html

You can also file a federal complaint. For those of you who are really struggling to get any traction at the district or state level, it is always and option to reach out to our Federal OSERS state lead. We strongly encourage you to exhaust communication at the district and state level first. If you have reached out to your district and the special populations team of the TN Department of Education (saydyslexia.questions@tn.gov) and still are not getting any response, then you can consider reaching out to the contacts OSERS (The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services). OSERS is the federal department committed to improving results and outcomes for people with disabilities of all ages. OSERS supports programs that serve millions of children, youth and adults with disabilities. Learn more and file with them here: https://www2.ed.gov/…/idea/monitor/state-contact-list.html

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