4 BUSD students file lawsuit against BUSD, administrators, BUSD Board of Education

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This article was updated to include a statement from BUSD.

Four Berkeley Unified School District students filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against BUSD, the BUSD Board of Education and several BUSD and BUSD Board of Education administrators for allegedly failing to serve students with reading disabilities such as dyslexia.

The suit alleges that the school district is “unwilling to exert the time and resources necessary to identify students with reading disorders and provide the services and accommodations required for them to learn how to read.” The complaint alleges that students found themselves “functionally illiterate” and “at best reading several levels or more below the grade in which they are enrolled.”

The four plaintiffs include a second-grade BUSD elementary school student, a fourth-grade BUSD elementary school student, a ninth-grade Berkeley High School student and a 12th-grade BHS student, according to the complaint.

The complaint lists BUSD, BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans, BUSD Board of Education and BUSD Board of Education directors Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, Ty Alper, Judy Appel, Josh Daniels and Karen Hemphill as defendants.

“Because reading disorders impact a vast student population, it’s imperative that school districts, like BUSD, not only educate themselves as to what reading disorders are, but also as to how to timely identify and appropriately serve all students who have them,” the complaint alleges. “As detailed throughout this Complaint, for years and years BUSD has systematically refused to do either,” the complaint also alleged.

In an email statement, BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress said that while they are “disheartened” to be named in the lawsuit, they disagree with the position that a student must be identified as disabled to be eligible for support services and interventions.

He added that the school district is proud of the interventions they provide and “remain firm in (their) position that the District has acted appropriately, both legally and in terms of the excellent programs provided to (their) students.”

The lawsuit was filed after complaints from parents of BUSD students with reading disabilities had “escalated” over the past two to three years, according to Arlene Mayerson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Deborah Jacobson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said she hopes these issues with BUSD can be resolved “outside of the lawsuit,” but she added that after years of working with BUSD, they came to an impasse in negotiations with the district’s administration last year.

In California, according to the complaint, it is estimated that more than one million students in K-12 public schools show signs of dyslexia — a disability in processing written language — and reading disorders impact hundreds of BUSD students in any given school year.

“These children are very bright, but they are in a one-size-fits-all reading program — this is a national and statewide problem,” Jacobson said.

Contact Audrey McNamara, Bobby Lee and Christine Lee at [email protected].

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  • ShadrachSmith

    Dyslexia is a strange pirt, I mean trip.

  • goodkind

    My dyslexic child was denied services in elementary school in about 2002. I had hoped things were better. I guess not. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the plaintiffs collected names of all those who had been denied services over the years. It’s shameful.

    • Berkeley Papa of 3

      I’m afraid this is still going on. My child was first denied services at BUSD and then given minimal services. The general education teacher, principal and special education teacher fought against services all of the way, and then were shocked that in 1 year she went from 12 months behind grade level to 18 months below grade level. They also stressed (with a smug look) how great it was that she had made some progress (although constantly falling further behind.)

      I think the district has gotten better at putting resources into protecting themselves legally rather than teaching dyslexics to read.

      Meanwhile, 82% of current African American 9th graders in BUSD were not achieving at grade level on last years state test for English/Language Arts (you can check on the CA Dept of Education web site.) Some of those kids probably have undocumented or untreated reading disabilities. The School Board talks at length about closing the achievement gap, yet also seems annoyed at special education needs.

      There are cost effective ways to identify and remediate kindergarten and first graders. The special education departments prefers to wait until the kids are really far behind – say 3rd or 4th grade. Studies show if that if you are not a good reader by 3rd grade you are very unlikely to ever be a good reader. So the wait to fail plan guarantees a population of kids that will never read and helps perpetuate the school to prison pipeline.

      I appreciate the help that Cal tutors/reading buddies gave my kids at BUSD. For my daughter it was pleasant I’m sure to be read to. Unfortunately, being read to doesn’t teach dyslexics to read. For a bigger punch perhaps ask BUSD to identify the kids that have dyslexia and ask for the appropriate interventions be used.

      It is hard to believe this is happening in the shadow of a world class university here in the birthplace of the disability rights movement.