West Linn-Wilsonville parents advocate for better learning services for dyslexic students
Julie Frazier says she has spent more than $10,000 in tutoring services to help her son with dyslexia learn how to read and write.
During the Monday, Nov. 14 school board meeting, a handful of parents from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District advocated during public comment for more comprehensive learning services and curriculum for students with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability that impacts about 20% of the world, according to the International Dyslexia Association. People with the learning difference usually have difficulties with accurate word recognition, spelling and decoding letters.
"I know that the West Linn-Wilsonville School District cares deeply for its students. But how do we create learning communities that benefit everyone? The answer is by creating more inclusive cultures for our learners, improving practices, and thoughtfully leaning into our dyslexic students," said Frazier, a paraeducator whose son attends West Linn High School.
Frazier and her family moved to West Linn from Arizona in 2014. Although both of her sons were diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school, their paths differed in terms of receiving adequate accommodations.
When her eldest son started showing signs of dyslexia, he was immediately placed in special services, which helped him move forward with his education. But when her youngest son was diagnosed in 2016, Frazier said it took five months and eight district representatives to help him get on a 504 plan.
A 504 plan is developed in partnership with families and school districts to ensure academic success and equal learning environments for students with learning differences.
"Why was he treated differently? He could not spell. He could not read without randomly making up his own story in the middle of reading aloud … Our family has spent over $10,000 for tutoring so he could learn to read and write — but what about the families that can't afford that?" Frazier asked.
She told Pamplin Media that her youngest son now attends Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego. The exhausting process for her son to get accommodations also caused "detrimental" impacts on his mental health.
Earlier in the evening, Superintendent Kathy Ludwig gave a presentation on dyslexia — a hot topic that had come up during one of the district's literacy partnership events on Nov. 7. She explained that, under Oregon Senate Bill 1003, all school districts are required to screen kindergartners and incoming first graders for signs of dyslexia.
Students who are identified as needing additional reading support are provided early intervention within their classroom and during the daily literacy block time through what is referred to as Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 strategies and systems.
But parents were firm with their demands. During public comment, they advocated for a new curriculum — specifically "The Science of Reading," an "extensively researched" lesson plan that teaches children of all learning styles how to read. Science of Reading is backed by the Oregon Department of Education and focuses on phonic reading rather than decoding, which can be helpful for dyslexic readers, said Frazier.
West Linn-Wilsonville's current reading model focuses on read-aloud times, writing workshops, shared reading times, and word studies, according to the district's literacy 2022-2023 workbook.
School districts across the Portland metro area, including the Lake Oswego School District, have adopted this curriculum.
Another parent, Sarah Lorentz, asked that the district adopt American Sign Language as an official language course. For most colleges, two years of a foreign language are required. Parents at the board meeting explained how that requirement is another roadblock for their dyslexic child. Lorentz said sign language could be a solution as it is the only non-verbal language with less reading, and her son has had a positive experience with it.
After having trouble getting services in the school district, Lorentz transferred her son to Edison Private School in Portland. She said he flourished, especially while learning American Sign Language as his required language. But her son's academic success came with a hefty receipt. She said her family had spent more than $100,000 on private education and tutoring services.
"I don't wish this on anybody in our community … that's why I continue to advocate," she said. "Illiteracy is a proven pipeline to dropping out, suicide, (living) in the streets, in the juvenile court systems," said Lorentz.
Tracy Normoyle, a West Linn parent, mirrored Lorentz's points on sign language, stating that her son experiences anxiety and stress while learning Spanish in school.
"My son has struggled to decode Spanish, and he comes to me and says it feels like a made-up language. He's in his classroom, drowning," Normoyle said. "He feels so much anxiety and stress. We shouldn't have to work this hard to have access to reading."
Normoyle said her son is in a "fetal position" because his curriculum is delivered through packets with long reading materials. As she stood across from the board members, she described her son walking around his middle school crying, looking for anyone to help him read the test he was given.
"Dyslexia is a strength, not a weakness, not an inferiority," she said.
Earlier in the meeting, before Frazier or other parents spoke out against dyslexic services, other parents raised concerns about explicit content in literature to the school board and advocated that they don't want their children to read that type of content.
"I don't want my kid to read that type of language, but I would cry for joy if he could at least read it," Frazier said.
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