“We Don’t Recognize Dyslexia” and Other Wildly Inaccurate Statements

Decoding Dyslexia North Carolina frequently hears from worried and frustrated families all across the state who have been told by staff at their child’s public school, “The state of North Carolina doesn’t recognize dyslexia….You need to go see a doctor if you suspect dyslexia…We don’t work with students with dyslexia.” The most recent may just top all of these. “I looked at the Dyslexia Topic Brief you shared with me. This is untrue and needs to be removed from the web.”

The Dyslexia Topic Brief was created in 2015 and updated in 2019 by the State Board of Education’s Exceptional Children’s Division, and is housed on The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s website. The document talks about federal Child Find law, which requires schools to identify children with disabilities and support those who require specially designed instruction. There are a variety of categories under which a student can be found eligible for special education, including Specific Learning Disability, defined here on the U.S. Department of Education website. Note that Specific Learning Disability includes disorders in the ability to read, write, and spell, and that the term DYSLEXIA is used in the definition.

North Carolina schools, administrators, and staff do not have the right or authority to decide which elements of federal IDEA law they want to recognize, follow, or agree with. If a school receives any federal funds, which all N.C. public schools do, they are bound by federal law to uphold the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This means that yes, ALL NORTH CAROLINA PUBLIC SCHOOLS MUST RECOGNIZE AND SUPPORT STUDENTS WITH DYSLEXIA. Period.

It is also the responsibility of North Carolina schools and staff to know the laws which they are required to uphold. Information about Specific Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia in North Carolina can literally be found in seconds by performing a simple web search for “dyslexia + North Carolina.” One of the top results is North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction’s webpage on Specific Learning Disabilities found here. This page links to a variety of dyslexia resources, including:

1. North Carolina’s Policies Governing Services for Children with Disabilities– This is a document which ALL school administrators and EC/special education staff should know well. Pages 72-73 discuss the evaluation process for Specific Learning Disability and states that eligibility in this category includes “basic reading skills,” which are at the heart of dyslexia, as well as reading fluency, comprehension, and written expression, which can also be impacted in those with dyslexia.

2. North Carolina House Bill 149– This bill became law in 2017, as it was the General Assembly’s intent, “that all students with specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia and dyscalculia, receive the necessary and appropriate screenings, assessments, and special education services to provide interventions for learning difficulties with language, reading, writing, and mathematics.”

3. U.S. Department of Education’s Guidance on Dyslexia– This letter to all state education agencies was written in 2015, the same year the State Board of Education published their Dyslexia Topic Brief. This document reiterates that Dyslexia falls under the category of Specific Learning Disability, and that there is no reason the term dyslexia cannot be used by schools or included in documentation such as IEP’s.

Now here we are 8 years later, after both federal and state government guidance and clarification were given, yet the ignorance continues. What will it take for all North Carolina public schools and staff to understand the basic rights children have to learn to read and to be appropriately supported if they are struggling to do so?

Emily J. Mora, M.Ed., CCC-SLP