Missouri’s legislative task force on Dyslexia held its first meeting this week. It’s the product of a measure approved this year to help public school kids who have the learning disorder.
The task force is charged with establishing guidelines for screening students, providing classroom support and developing a program to train teachers on handling the disability.
Cape Girardeau Republican State Representative Kathy Swan was chosen to be the task force’s chairman at the meeting. She says there’ll be a requirement for all students to be screened for dyslexia. “At a given point in time, let’s say its third grade” said Swan. “Then all third-graders in Missouri public schools and public charter schools would then be screened for dyslexia.”
Swan points out dyslexia negatively impacts a wide portion of society. “One-in-five in the population is dyslexic nationwide. 90 percent of some prison populations are determined to be dyslexic. 70-to-80 percent of those in the juvenile justice program, and about an equal percentage in substance abuse programs (are dyslexic). So it is a widespread issue that we’re dealing with.”
Swan contends tackling dyslexia in school will have long range positive implications for all of Missouri. “It’s a great benefit to society as a whole, to the state as a whole. In the long, it can possibly even reduce our expenditures for some of these programs that we have.”
Republican Rob Onder of St. Charles County is one of two state senators on the bipartisan task force. He has a son with dyslexia. Onder says schools currently don’t offer much assistance to such students. “By and large the school districts do not do anything to recognize it” said Onder. “When it is brought to their attention, often parents are told that dyslexia is a medical diagnosis, it’s not and educational or learning related diagnosis. And these kids aren’t given help.”
Democrat Scott Sifton of St. Louis County comes to the task force after having sponsored legislation this year in the Senate calling for public schools to screen students for dyslexia and related disorders.
He thinks the committee has a large undertaking in front of it. “As a state we have been failing these children” said Sifton. “We do not have comprehensive statewide screening as it stands now. That needs to be changed. We do not have comprehensive statewide intervention. That’s something we need to do as well. We’ve got to help these kids.”
Sifton was motivated to pursue action on Dyslexia by a constituent who was having difficulty getting her dyslexic son help from a public school.
The task force will next meet at the end of November to begin developing procedures for tackling dyslexia in schools. It’s required to makes recommendations to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by next October. And a dyslexia program must be in place by the start of the 2018-19 school year.
The 20 member Dyslexia Task Force is composed of the three state lawmakers as well as educators, therapists and citizens with dyslexic relatives.