Peyton Kraus
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Parents and their children gathered in the audience during the House Education Committee meeting Wednesday to hear HB 2602, which would require screening within public schools for dyslexia and related disorders.
The families assembled in support of further legislation and state action to specify dyslexia diagnosis, along with specialized education plans within the schools for these students rather than forcing them to find help elsewhere.
There are screening procedures in place to test for all reading disabilities, but many testified to the importance of having the ability to differentiate dyslexia from the others.
Allison Winters, a speech language pathologist, literacy specialist and step-mother of a student with dyslexia, said the treatment of dyslexia needs to be much different than treatment for other reading disabilities in order to help kids read and write at grade level.
The bill would require the State Board of Education to develop a formula for a screening process for schools to implement. Jennifer Knight, owner of Dyslexia Help KC and mother of two children with dyslexia, called for the formula to include testing of phonological awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary, listening comprehension and family history within the screening process during her testimony.
HB 2602 would also require schools to notify parents or guardians if the screening indicates the possibility of dyslexia. Christina Middleton said although there were indications her son had dyslexia as early as second grade, she did not learn about it until much later in his elementary education after she requested his school files.
“They never told me. They never brought their suspicions to me,” Middleton said during testimony. “Had a dyslexia legislation like this been in place nine years ago when my son entered kindergarten, a quick dyslexic screening would have let us know he was born likely to be dyslexic.”
Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee) spent 32 years teaching in the De Soto school district, with most of her career teaching first grade. The research on this issue and the creation of this bill began with parents reaching out to her and Rep. Tom Cox (R-Shawnee) to find a solution. With her history of teaching young children, she stressed the importance of diagnosing dyslexia and other disorders early on.
“You see those red flags early on and the thing is if we can target things early, it’s much obviously better for the student because they get that assistance early and they’re caught up with their peers sooner,” Brim said before the hearing. “Early education is so important and that’s part of even with the education issue now with funding, we need to make sure we’re doing this early learning too and targeting the money toward them.”
However, there were opponents of the bill, including Terry Collins, the Legislative Chair for the Kansas Association of Special Education Administrators. Collins explained the redundancy of this bill because the regulations in place for testing, including a kindergarten readiness test and services for all students with any special education needs.
Amy Haussler, Director of Special Education of Holton Special Education Co-op and a former teacher, said in her testimony the steps school districts are already taking to test children for reading disabilities and set up individual education plans for those students who need them.
While Haussler argued districts already implement these measures, those in support of the bill suggested that not all districts enforce them equally. Rep. Tory Marie Arnberger (R-Great Bend) asked what the consequences were for schools in Kansas not following regulations to evaluate and accommodate for students with reading disabilities. A clear answer was unknown.
Opposition from Haussler also comes from her concern of making legislation specific for one disorder, such as dyslexia, rather than for the umbrella of special education needs.
“I want us to keep our focus on the children and what we’re doing for them rather than providing a diagnosis or again just one disability in the hundreds of disabilities that are out there because there are so many that deserve this much attention and not just dyslexia,” Haussler said.
One last testimony came from Mark Desetti of the Kansas National Education Association and a parent of a child with dyslexia, who wanted the legislation to be more detailed before it is passed. In his written testimony, he raised questions pertaining to whether all students are screened for dyslexia and how often, as well as if schools are required to pay for follow-up evaluations. He said he hopes the bill will be considered for further discussion before being put into action.
No further action on the bill has been scheduled at this time.
Peyton Kraus is a University of Kansas junior majoring in journalism from Minneapolis.