Editorials, Opinion

Schools failing dyslexic students

As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words.

We believe that every child should have access to a free, quality education, and we have frequently used this space to champion public schools. Which is why we were disappointed to learn that Monongalia County Schools has done little more than pay lip service to helping students with dyslexia.

You’ve likely seen our articles the last several Sundays in honor of Dyslexia Awareness Month, including one highlighting Mon County Schools’ protocols and resources for students with dyslexia.

In an interview with The Dominion Post, Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico said the school system has “reading programs and interventions in every school at every level” and that there are a number of administrators in the school system who are reading specialists by training. Talerico also said the district uses structured literacy programs, such as Orton-Gillingham.

While the county says it has all these things for dyslexic students and their families, the students and families say they aren’t receiving the support they need for their kids to be successful.

It seems that being a “reading specialist” isn’t the same as being qualified to help dyslexic students overcome the unique challenges they face. And while the district has several literacy programs available, it doesn’t seem there’s anyone to implement the programs. At the moment, there is one individual in the county school system who is working on her Orton-Gillingham certification.

In our interviews with Bonnie Bailey Dyslexia Foundation members, we heard about parents desperate to get help for children who weren’t being screened and weren’t being aided in the public schools. The son of the foundation’s namesake received excellent help in elementary school, but the services didn’t carry through to high school, so he struggled again. A mother wrote to us that her family has spent $7,000 on resources for her dyslexic children that should have been provided by the school system but weren’t.

All in all, it looks like Mon Schools’ actions don’t match its words.

At least one area charter school, however, offers the types of educational resources and support dyslexic students need. If charter schools can do it, public schools should be able to as well.

We don’t think that Mon County’s teachers lack the compassion and will to help dyslexic students, but it appears they lack the training and knowledge. As part of all teachers’ continuing education, they should be taught to identify the signs and symptoms of dyslexia. (Past a certain grade level, every class requires students be able to read and comprehend the written word.) We would also like to see teachers be taught to use at least one of the literacy programs, such as Orton-Gillingham, that have been shown to help dyslexic people. And considering the prevalence of dyslexia (as much as 20% of the population), we’d like to see at least one certified specialist available in every Mon County school but preferably at least one specialist for each grade level in each school.