Lawmakers address dyslexia in Kansas schools

Published: Apr. 29, 2018 at 3:53 PM CDT
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Governor Jeff Colyer

to create the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia.

The 16-member task force will be made up of legislators, parents, and educators. They will evaluate current federal and state laws, rules, and regulations affecting students with dyslexia.

They will also research and make recommendations for dyslexia screening, teacher training, and effective reading interventions.

Parents and advocates told Eyewitness News the formation of this task force is a much-needed step in the right direction.

Educational advocate Barb Orsi has a son with dyslexia, who she said is now a successful adult. That experience led her to be an advocate for many families, as they work through the process of agreeing with schools on an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) to address their children’s special needs.

“Parents expect to go into the school with this diagnosis saying, ‘Here we have it!’ And then the school puts it through a process that could take a year,” said Barb Orsi.

She says many kids with dyslexia are left behind by Kansas schools.

“A lot of times they put it in the section called ‘Parent Concerns’, which is like your miscellaneous drawer in your kitchen,” said Barb Orsi.

Barb’s husband Peter Orsi is an attorney who works on many special needs cases. They both agree part of the ongoing program is the legal system.

Peter Orsi said the 1980 Rowley lawsuit was misinterpreted for years to mean that simple access to education was good enough.

Now, a new legal precedent set by the Endrew F. case in 2016 requires both access and progress.

“The shift goes from access to progress; an earthquake change,” said Peter Orsi.

He said that change gives parents a better chance to fight schools in court.

However, Barb Orsi said another big problem is consistency. She said some schools have the resources; others don’t. Moreover, she said there’s no solid approach to teaching kids with dyslexia in Kansas.

She and parents we spoke with acknowledged that teachers and schools want to do right by their students. They hope this new task force will equip them with the tools to effectively help kids with dyslexia succeed.

“It would be such a wonderful thing to be able to take them off the special education roles and devote more resources to kids with more intensive needs, like autism” said Barb Orsi.

Drayton Kofford was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child.

“Definitely everyone who’s had dyslexia at some point feels really really dumb,” said Kofford. “I was reading the baby books while everyone else was moving on to tougher stuff.”

Now, he is working on his college degree at KU and said there are many examples of successful people with dyslexia.

Audrie, who is 10 years old, left the public school system for special intervention at the Fundamental Learning Center’s Rolph Literacy Academy.

Almost four years later, she now loves to read and write. She is reading the Harry Potter books right now and wants a library in her home one day.

She shared a letter she wrote to younger children with dyslexia.

Audrie's Letter About Dyslexia

Audrie's mom just texted me after seeing my series on the "Dyslexia Dilemma" in Kansas. She told me Audrie turned to her and said, "Mama, I think this is going to help." That melts my heart. Here is the full letter Audrie wrote to share her story and encourage younger children with dyslexia. I also included a look at a BEAUTIFUL painting she made. She is very talented and her future is bright!

Posted by Natalie Davis on Monday, April 30, 2018

“Keep trying and don’t give up,” she wrote. “If you believe, you can succeed.”

Audrie’s mother Rebecca, who asked us to withhold her last name for professional reasons, gave us this statement about her daughter’s experience with dyslexia:

Audrie and really children in general have always reminded me of butterflies…. Looking back at my daughter’s initial experience with public school, it was like she was a caterpillar who no matter how hard she tried…. she just couldn’t form her chrysalis. She would come home in tears and say to me “mama, my teachers just don’t see me.” I struggled in the beginning to understand what her statement meant. As her mother, I saw how hard she was working both at school and at home in order to learn to read. I have come to learn that unfortunately the state of Kansas does not yet recognize the disability of dyslexia and therefore, teachers and administrators really have their hands tied when it comes to helping children like my daughter. I believe that most public school staff has positive intent, yet to this point they have been unwilling to provided Audrie with access to education in the ways in which she needs in order to become the beautiful butterfly that I know she is. I would encourage public school staff to really look at the big picture and to realize many children such as Audrie could truly be helped with formal accommodations and access to education. Dyslexia is something that Audrie will have her entire life, it is not something that is outgrown, but rather with the right support my child and many others will succeed. I believe in our great state of Kansas and the Public Schools and looking to the future I have great hopes that changes WILL be made in our public school systems for my daughter and many others who have dyslexia. Audrie deserves to be seen by her teachers. Audrie is creative, a leader, she’s smart, artistic and a funny child. None of these things she believed until she received intervention help at the Fundamental Learning Center and Rolph Literacy Academy. All of her friends I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at her school are some of the coolest kids I know and all have such gifts and talents. Her teachers at RLA utilize a tried and true method of helping children read. And not only have they taught her to read they have empowered her to form HER chrysalis. They have also inspired her to be a teacher when she grows up to help other kids who have dyslexia. AND she wants to have a library in her house-this is huge… coming from a child who couldn’t read anything at age 7. The Fundamental Learning Center is a place where children are seen, helped, and emerge as amazing and radiant butterflies.