Students With Reading Disabilities Sue Berkeley Unified School District for Failing to Educate Them
Americas, May 18 2017
DREDF, with co–counsel, filed a complaint in federal court against Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) for systemically failing to educate students with reading disorders, and students who are suspected to have reading disability. BUSD is being sued for failure to comply with federal and state laws that ensure all students receive a free appropriate public education. The lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), Jacobson Education Law, Inc., and international law firm Goodwin in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
Children with reading disabilities have extreme difficulty learning skills needed to become literate, such as decoding (sounding out) words. Many are incredibly intelligent and need to be taught how to read in different ways than their peers. The complaint describes in disturbing detail how students from kindergarten to high school have been failed by the school district on perhaps its most basic academic responsibility: teaching children how to read. Some students have special education plans known as Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or Section 504 plans in place, but have nevertheless struggled unnecessarily with literacy because of the district’s across–the–board refusals. The suit contends that BUSD is failing to comply with federal and state laws, and implementing regulations (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and California Education Code Sections 56000 et seq.).
Deborah Jacobson of Jacobson Education Law, Inc. said, “What’s happening in BUSD matters because, in California alone, it’s estimated that more than 1 million students in K–12 public schools display signs of dyslexia. This is potentially an entire population of children who will struggle needlessly and possibly enter society functionally illiterate, no matter how intelligent, driven and capable they are. I’ve seen too many families in the BUSD have to resort to extreme measures including homeschooling just so their children with reading disorders are spared the shame and emotional trauma of not learning to read alongside their peers.”
Despite being aware for years of needed changes to its policies and practices, BUSD has systemically failed to identify, evaluate, and provide appropriate reading intervention services and accommodations to students with reading disorders that are necessary for them to learn to read and advance academically from grade to grade.
It is estimated that 6 to 17 percent of the population in the United States demonstrates some sign of dyslexia, making it the most prevalent learning disability by far.
DREDF is very fortunate that so many people who share in and support our work also understand one of our biggest challenges: time. Litigation, especially impact litigation, requires a huge investment of time on our part before we can even begin to think about recouping any expenses. This case is no different. We’ve been developing it for over four years, working with parents, trying to negotiate a resolution with the district, and building it for litigation. Filing the complaint, as you surely know, is just one step in a very long process. That means if you’ve been our supporter within, say, the last four years, you share our sense of accomplishment in protecting the rights of students with disabilities. Thank you for sticking with us so that we can stick up for students, and all people, with disabilities.