Federal Legislation

If you are just getting started on working with your child’s school to identify what can be done to help a student who might have dyslexia, it is important to familiarize yourself with federal legislation. Sometimes, the school representatives are very familiar with the law. Other times, they are not. Knowing the facts, having documentation and using the right language (i.e., language, terms used in federal documents) can all make a big difference in your the discussions with school representatives as you advocate for your child’s rights.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) was originally enacted by the United States Congress in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Dyslexia is listed as an example of a “specific learning disability” in the text of the IDEA. However, a diagnosis of dyslexia does not automatically mean a child has a disability under the law and is therefore eligible for special education. To receive special education, a student must be found to

  1. have a disability under the law, and
  2. be in need of specially designed instruction.

According to the IDEA, it is possible for a child to be getting good grades, yet have a disability and be in need of specially-designed instruction. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) created an excellent resource for learning about IDEA, the NCLD IDEA Parent Guide.

If your child has an IEP and you have been told by their school that you cannot use the diagnosis dyslexia, dyscalculia or dysgraphia in their IEP, inform them that IDEA does allow this and show them the U.S. Department of Education Guidance Letter on Dyslexia. If your school is slow to grant your child an evaluation while stating that the school uses Response to Intervention (RTI) methods to support struggling students, familiarize yourself with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services RTI Memo. It clearly states that the RTI process cannot be used to delay or deny an evaluation for eligibility under IDEA.   “The purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility, determinations, or IEP documents.”

-The U.S. Department of Education Guidance Letter on Dyslexia, October 2015

The first Federal law addressing dyslexia was signed into law on February 18, 2016. The READ (Research Excellence and Advancement for Dyslexia) Act (H.R. 3033) supported important research to further our understanding of dyslexia, including better methods for early detection and teacher training. The READ Act was introduced by Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

In 2015, the federal government designated October as “National Dyslexia Awareness Month” with Senate Resolution 275. U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced the bipartisan resolution. The Cassidy-Mikulski Resolution called on Congress, states, schools and local education agencies to recognize the significant educational implications of dyslexia that must be addressed. The resolution was a major step forward in acceptance, support and recognition of dyslexia by schools at a national level. Read more about “Game-changing U.S. Senate Resolution 275” on The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity website.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division published their ADA Requirements Testing Accommodations. The document addresses the obligations that private, state or local government entities who conduct exams must offer related to applications, licensing, certification or credentialing for high school, college, graduate school, law school, medical school and trade school (e.g., cosmetology, electrician) purposes. Who is entitled to testing accommodations, what types of testing accommodations must be provided and what documentation may be required of the person requesting the testing accommodations are outlined.