Upper Arlington schools under investigation for violating learning disabilities policies

by Cassie Lowery, ’13

Rat. When most people see that word, a furry rodent comes to mind, but for some students, it might not be that easy.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, a child with dyslexia confuses letters in words, so that RAT may appear as ART instead. People with dyslexia struggle with any skill related to language.

Junior Emily Long was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade, but that was far from the end of her struggles.

“I didn’t actually learn to read until around fourth or fifth grade,” Long said. “They tried to teach me how to read for around four years with this program that didn’t work.”

Reading and writing difficulties cause dyslexic students to fall behind in school, so it is crucial for educators to identify and aid students with the disorder.

According to an Aug. 30 report by the Ohio Department of Education, Upper Arlington may be overlooking the additional attention dyslexics need as students. The ODE’s investigation was prompted by a group of parents who reported to the ODE that the UA school district failed to follow state policies regarding the requirements for students with suspected disabilities. The report cites a failure to correctly evaluate and provide intervention to these students.

Such evaluation and intervention would have helped Long, who said her younger sister, also dyslexic, was taught through the Orton-Gillingham approach at the private school she attends. The website for the Academy of Orton-Gillingham states that it is based off of “scientific evidence about how persons [with dyslexia] learn to read and write.”

“[My sister] is in the third grade and because of this method she can actually read at a fifth grade level,” Long said.

Long is disappointed in the lack of effort UA puts toward identifying and supporting dyslexic students.

“[UA] doesn’t usually help to test kids for [dyslexia,] and [the school] doesn’t like to diagnosis kids with it,” Long said.

Long additionally believes that the longer kids go without a diagnosis and treatment, the farther they fall behind in school and the worse they feel about themselves.

“I don’t want any kid to feel the way I felt,” Long said. “That’s why this investigation needed to happen. It’s not going to affect me at this point, but it can help all of those kids who are coming up.”

Julie Martin, legal counsel for the Upper Arlington City School District Board of Education, wrote back to the ODE noting errors in the complaints that were filed, as well as in the investigation and resultig report by the ODE. According to Martin, many of the complaints were outside the relevant time frame and can’t be used as evidence against the district. Also, the letter stated that four of the students listed in the complaint had already had their cases assessed and the ODE had sided with the district.

The district is fighting all allegations made against their policies. Martin wrote, “Because the district did not admit error and there is no evidence that the district made errors, the complaint must be dismissed in its entirety.”

Many others, including Long, disagree with the district’s statement that the ODE’s report is inaccurate.

“That is just not the case,” Long said. “[The school has not] done everything right, and they need to own up to it. I don’t agree with what they’ve said at all.”

On the other hand, Long noted that Upper Arlington is far from alone in regards to neglecting the needs of dyslexic students.

“Generally a lot of schools are having the same trouble as Upper Arlington,” Long said. “Our district isn’t doing significantly worse than any other.”

It is yet to be seen what will become of the investigation and whether or not the school will implement any changes in its policies. Long, along with other advocates for improvements to education for children with learning disabilities, hopes this will be resolved as soon as possible.