Is This Another Legal Victory Against Dyslexic Student Neglect?

Dyslexic student neglect, that’s a pretty harsh phrase, isn’t it?  If you have a child with any type of learning difference, and the school fails to meet your child’s educational needs, then you have some idea of what I mean when I say dyslexic student neglect.  A legal victory for students who endure such neglect, well, that’s reason to celebrate, isn’t it?


White background. Text blocks of dark blue, orange, dark pink. White text reads: Is This Another Legal Victory Against Dyslexic Student Neglect?


Similar to the case I wrote about in A Legal Victory for Dyslexia Intervention in Public School, Maybe, the legal victory against Clark County School District is a mixed bag.  I want to jump for joy.  Really, I do, but I think I’m going to have to be more careful about how I use the phrase “legal victory” from now on.


The Good News

Yes, parents sued the school district and won their case.  These parents of a student with multiple learning differences and unique needs spent a hefty sum of their own money to compensate for the failures of the school.  The U.S. District Court of Nevada ordered the school district to reimburse the parents in the amount of $457,000.


I’ll mention some noteworthy points but I won’t dive too much into the details here.  If you’d like, you can download and read the full report.


The Complicated News

FAPE refers to the Free Appropriate Public Education that all students in the U.S. are entitled to by law.  Based on the advice of experts, the court determined the student “required a specific methodology in order to receive a FAPE.”  Changing methodologies from one teacher to the next, or mixing various programs, would be too confusing.


So far so good.  But here’s where things get tricky.


Expert evaluators had long recommended Orton-Gillingham to help meet the student’s needs.  While the school did refuse to add a methodology to the student’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan), throughout the court case, Orton-Gillingham was treated as if it is a methodology.  It is not.  Orton-Gillingham is a philosophy, not a method.   I will likely talk more about the importance of that distinction in another post.  For now, though, back to the recommendations in the report.  By the way, O.R. refers to the student.


“Methodology will be a key factor in improving [O.R.’s] academic standing. [O.R.] will respond best to instructional programs that provide simultaneous, multisensory instruction, and are also systematic and cumulative” …In response to the question as to whether it matters how the multisensory or multimodality approach is implemented, [the evaluator] testified that it did, that “it should be a program approach . . . there should be a methodology to it. There should be a philosophy to it and one that is applied with really rigorous consistency.”  (source)


I don’t think I’m simply arguing semantics here when I say that using the terms program approach, methodology and philosophy all at once in this recommendation is problematic, to say the least.


Orton-Gillingham is neither a program nor a methodology.  It is, however, an approach, or philosophy.  If a school must provide a specific methodology, labeling it “Orton-Gillingham” still fails to keep them in compliance.  They must utilize a specific methodology that is based upon the Orton-Gillingham philosophy.  Using all of those terms interchangeably only adds more confusion, hindering our progress to provide appropriate solutions for dyslexic students.


The Not So Good News

As with the last legal victory I reported on, this one has the same glaring problem of timing.  With the help of dedicated parents, the student in this case began her fight for FAPE back when she was in preschool in 2007.  This case concluded in October of 2021.  Clearly that’s not a victory for the child.


What do you think?  Is this a “legal victory” for dyslexic students and other students with learning differences?  Is it a signal to school districts to drop their practices of dyslexic student neglect, of ignoring the reality that students with learning differences need a different kind of instruction?  Will this encourage them to follow the letter of the law?


I’m happy that this case, in some way, validates the parents’ claim that their child’s needs were neglected.  I can only hope that this leads to more proactive measures for students currently entitled to a free, appropriate, public education.