Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Opinionis Dyslexic

The old brick school building still stands on the corner of Leech Avenue and Fairmount Street in Sioux City, Iowa.  It’s still across from Miles Inn, a bar that sold buckets of beer back in the day.  A time when old men walked up Leech Avenue, and other streets, with their buckets of beer in hand. 

Today, where children once played games of four square on sprawling playgrounds, employees and visitors park their cars, and an apartment complex sits on pea-gravel fields (far right in the photo shared above), destroying the area where children once played kickball under the shade old-growth cottonwood trees.

Except for a Community Action Agency that occupies the building, all traces of the old grammar school are gone.  A sandy play area, and a small kiddie park, inhabits old lawns, but today its mostly civil servants and the forlorn hanging out there.  Drivers traveling up and down Leech Avenue and Fairmount Street see them occasionally going to and from the building.

Across Fairmount Street, neon signs in the window of Miles Inn still call people to drink (a smiling emoji beckons the thirsty to “Smile with Miles”) but Cooper school, and its children, is gone and forgotten.

What happened inside there, however, is not.  It can’t be vanquished.  The children who struggled to learn and read there, even though the problem was discovered as early as 1937 by Dr. Samuel Orton, can’t forget.  The memory follows them even today; for identifying reading disorders, and especially dyslexia, is still a problem.

The only sign of the struggling readers who were once harbored there is the crumbling brick and mortar of the facade, a symbol of the pointless struggle.  For those who vacated the safety of Cooper school’s playgrounds to “learn” from the Midwestern teachers inside, cry out.  Readers are still struggling to learn how to read here in the Midwest.

Neon signs in the window of Miles Inn still call people to drink (a smiling emoji beckons the thirsty to “Smile with Miles”) but Cooper school, and its children, is gone and forgotten.

Nebraska State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks recently told parents, teachers, students and others, the problem would be addressed.  On January 15, 2017, she posted on her Facebook page a remarkable proclamation:

Next week, I will introduce legislation to add a definition of dyslexia to state statute so we can start to better address the assessment and intervention challenges that too often leave children with dyslexia behind...."

To whit: nothing much has happened to help troubled readers in the Midwest, at least not in Nebraska, since the children of Cooper school watched old men walk home with buckets of beer 60 years ago.

It’s not hard to understand, really, how a child can be left behind in the Midwest.  A recent call to the Sioux City Community Schools’ main office, for example, revealed a bewildering labyrinth of departments, procedures and acronyms.

An employee told a concerned caller that an elementary school student with dyslexia would need to work with people in the special education department to develop an individualized education plan (or IEP).  This step is required for students with special needs, including dyslexia, seeking help outside the general educational requirements.

After the caller expressed concern about readers with dyslexia needing “special education,” the person explained that the special ed program is where teachers (or staff) put together the IEP if students needed individualized education plans.

The caller, unable to equate the IEP with the “individualized education plan,” asked what an IEP was:

“Basically what it says,” the employee said, “(is that) if they need help, whether it could be having to do with, um...any types of needs that they need that are not, like, part of the general population, I guess.”

It was an honest answer, but unfortunately it created confusion.

There were many questions the office seemed unprepared for, unfortunately.  Why did dyslexic readers need “special education," for example.  Shouldn't it just be a part of reading programs?

After 60 years there were too few answers for a common reading disorder identified in 1937.  The Sioux City Community Schools did offer to take a name and telephone number. They will get back with information about individual school programs — and updates will be shared when available — but the lack of progress was disheartening.

After the telephone conversation an Internet search explained the IEP acronym:

According to the Autism Support Network, a student’s Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an IEP, is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

Cynthia Falardeau, a mother with an autistic child, explained in a comment (or post) that the IDEA requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student with a disability, who is found to meet federal and state requirements for special education. An IEP must be designed to provide the child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Under IDEA regulations a “specific learning disability” is defined, in part, as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in...conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia.

This is what was being referenced in the call.

“I have made many mistakes in my effort to fight for Wyatt,” Falardeau said about the battle for her son’s education. “But during the course of four years (and more than a dozen IEP’s), I have learned a lot....”

Unfortunately, many educators have not.


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