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].