Montana's New Dyslexia Law

We interviewed Kelly Fedge DuBose about her work with Decoding Dyslexia Montana and the ground breaking Montana dyslexia legislation signed into law this past spring. 

Chelsea Wessel Sloan: Hi Kelly!  Thanks so much for talking with us.  First off, what is Decoding Dyslexia?

Kelly Fedge DuBose:  Decoding Dyslexia is a nationwide, grassroots, parent-led movement to give parents access to information about dyslexia, dyslexia services in their area and to help parents advocate for their rights within the school system.  Currently in the US, there is limited access to intervention for dyslexia in our school system. There is a Decoding Dyslexia chapter in each state and I’m the executive director for the Montana chapter.

I found out about Decoding Dyslexia in 2012,  but that was after several years working on my own to support my son who is dyslexic.  I took Orton-Gillingham training and eventually homeschooled my son because I didn’t feel like the school was accepting of his dyslexia diagnosis and his health was being compromised because of his anxiety about not being able to read. I also started a group called Montana Reads in 2006 before I found Decoding Dyslexia.  

CWS: How long did you work on getting this new legislation passed?

KFD:  14 years

CWS: Tell us about this new law:

KFD: So the law is called the “Montana Dyslexia Screening and Intervention Act” and first of all it reminds schools that they need to be in compliance with the Child Find part of IDEA (IDEA is the federal law governing Special Education) which states that schools are required to locate, identify and evaluate all children with disabilities from birth through age 21. Our new law specifically states that children with potential learning disabilities must be identified and evaluated for special education and related services as early as possible. To me that means the whole wait until third grade to evaluation can’t continue to happen.

It also lays out a definition of dyslexia based on the International Dyslexia Association’s definition.

The next part of the law is focused on how to identify children who might be dyslexic.  It states that school districts “shall utilize a screening instrument aimed at identifying students at-risk of not meeting grade-level reading benchmarks.”  The children have to be evaluated in their first three years of school (K-2) or at any time a child that has not been evaluated is not meeting reading benchmarks.

Finally, the law gives some guidance on what screening instruments must cover (phonemic and phonological awareness) and then that intervention that will result is signs of dyslexia are present.

CWS: If a student is identified as possibly dyslexic based on screening, what happens next?

KFD:  Intervention should begin at school. By the way, if a child already has a dyslexia diagnosis, then the school is obligated to create an intervention plan too.  This may or may not be an IEP, but the school must create a plan.

CWS: So what could the interventions be?

KFD: Well, the law doesn’t specify Orton-Gillingham or Structured Literacy-based programs, which we know would be programs using appropriate methods of working with dyslexic students on reading. It does state the program must be specific to dyslexia.  This is really important, because it means the school can’t just use any old reading curriculum.  Decoding Dyslexia MT and the Montana Dyslexia Task Force are working on recommendations.

CWS: What should parents expect at their school this fall?

KFD:  Through this school year, OPI will be providing information and training to schools and teachers about the new law.  An audit is planned in spring 2020 to look at how schools are implementing the law and doing what they need to be in compliance with the law.

What can parents do to advocate for their children as this new law is put into practice?

KFD:  

  • Join Decoding Dyslexia Montana! We can help parents with resources for dyslexic students as well as give you help with advocating for your child at school (www.decodingdyslexiamt.org).

  • Explain to administration what is in the law and ask them what their plan is for establishing screening as well as what programs they plan to use for intervention. Some schools don’t really understand what sorts of reading programs are good matches for dyslexic students, so parents can help educate about what Orton-Gillingham or Structured Literacy programs are. You can download these handouts to help.

  • Ask the school how they will be preparing all their teachers to identify signs of dyslexia. A lot of teachers who even teach reading every day don’t have a clear understanding of the signs of dyslexia.

  • Remind teachers and administrators that they can say “dyslexia” in official documents and really anywhere. Some people still think you can’t use the term dyslexia in Montana schools. You absolutely can. The US Department of Education cleared that up in 2015 (see details here).


CWS:  What are your next steps?

KFD:  Well getting this law passed was a huge win, but there were definitely some things that got left out of the bill in order to get it passed.  That’s politics!  

One thing I want to work on is to get specific guidelines in place for choosing appropriate dyslexia screening tools and guidelines for best intervention practices.  The toolkit  I’m working on along with the Montana Dyslexia Taskforce will provide schools this sort of information, but I would love to see it in a law in the future.

The task force is also working on changes in university teacher training programs in the state.  We want teachers to demonstrate understanding of dyslexia and how to instruct dyslexic students as a part of getting teaching accreditation.

CWS: Kelly, thanks so much for all your hard work on behalf of our children!