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Hope, funding heading to families with dyslexic children in Idaho schools

Posted at 2:00 AM, Apr 01, 2022

BOISE, Idaho — The support families have wanted for their dyslexic children is now here, after legislation that will direct $97,000 to implement educational resources in all Idaho schools was signed into law.

On Thursday, families with Decoding Dyslexia Idaho celebrated the signage alongside the bill's legislative sponsors.

Gov. Brad Little with the families of Decoding Dyslexia Idaho on Thursday

Dyslexia is a language-learning disability estimated to impact 20% of the population. Idaho is one of the last states to adopt dyslexia-specific educational services in public and public charter schools. College of Idaho Assistant Professor of Education Sally Brown said the lack of resources has caused some children to fall behind.

"So many students have fallen through the cracks over the years," Brown said. "And by fifth or sixth grade, they are failing across content areas and subject areas because they cannot read."

Related: Dyslexia legislation back on the agenda, House lawmakers to discuss bill after 2-week holdup

Now, through the legislation, the State Department of Education will:

  • Administer statewide dyslexia screening to identify K-5 students with characteristics of dyslexia 
  • Provide professional development training for educators in multisensory-structured literacy approaches 
  • Create a handbook with intervention strategies to address students with characteristics of dyslexia 

"By catching these students early and providing the right kind of intervention and instruction, it's going to make a huge difference in what they can accomplish later," Brown said.

Monica Gonsalves, a former teacher in the Treasure Valley, started learning about dyslexia shortly after her son was diagnosed. However, she was shocked to discover the state had no resources teachers could use to help dyslexic students develop strong literacy and writing skills.

"It was very frustrating to talk to administration, my district, and the State Department of Education and run against wall after wall," Gonsalves said.

Monica Gonsalves and son, Logan

Gonsalves said she quickly became the go-to teacher for all things dyslexia. But after several attempts to increase the number of available resources in local schools failed, Gonsalves pulled her son out of public school. Last year, Gonsalves quit her teaching job for a higher-paying position that could support sending her son to private, specialized education services.

"This legislation is huge for the kids I saw every day in my class, the kids I saw every day in my school, and my son," she said. "We finally get to do something for them."

On Thursday, several families expressed their joy about the legislation's signage. To Julie Eyler, whose two children and husband have dyslexia, access to dyslexia-related resources in school will be life-changing.

"It means hope. It means success for these kids, which is huge," Eyler said. They've had a rough, rough time these last few years. It just means the world that these kids will have a chance to thrive in the school system."

The Eyler family

Related: Dyslexia legislation passes House panel, families speak on experiences

Decoding Dyslexia Idaho – a grassroots group of parents determined to increase awareness and access to services for children with dyslexia – played a significant role in drafting the legislation. Zikmund established the chapter in 2018, shortly after her son was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2018.

"For years, I cried and begged to meet somebody that could help and support me," Zikmund said. "I set out on an absolute mission to make sure that no other mom went through what I went through. And that's what we did."

The State Department of Education plans to implement the new services during the 2022-2023 school year.