U.S. DOE “Dear Colleague” Letter Clarifies that  IDEA Does Not Prohibit the Use of the Terms Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Dysgraphia

On October 23, 2015, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (“OSERS”) at the U.S. Department of Education issued yet another in a series of  “Dear Colleague” letters, this time concerning the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations and individualized education plans (“IEPs”).

The letter notes that OSERS has received communications from “stakeholders” that “State and local educational agencies are reluctant to reference or use dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility determinations, or in developing the IEP under the IDEA.”

The letter concludes that under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”) there is “nothing…that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.”

The letter explains that regardless of what learning disability a student has or may have, the district is obligated to evaluate the student in accordance with IDEA to determine whether the student meets the criteria for a specific learning disability.

The letter discusses the use of “multi-tiered systems of support” (“MTSS”), which may be used to “identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, including those who may have dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia; monitor their progress; provide evidence based interventions; and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness.”

The letter warns schools, however, that they must identify students who do not respond to such multi-tiered systems of support and refer them for special education evaluations. Moreover, while the letter seems to encourage the use of MTSS, it is careful to remember that the use of these support systems “may not be used to delay or deny a full and individual evaluation.”

Further, the letter clarifies that there may be situations where “the child’s parents and the team of qualified professionals responsible for determining whether the child has a specific learning disability would find it helpful to include information about the specific condition (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia) in documenting how that condition relates to the child’s eligibility determination.”

Recent Illinois legislation also addresses the issue of dyslexic students in school. Contact Bennett Rodick or Michelle Todd with your inquiries.

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