A Legal Perspective on the Use of Specific Reading Methods for Students with Learning Disabilities
Bhat, Preetha, Rapport, Mary Jane K., Griffin, Cynthia C., Learning Disability Quarterly
Abstract. This article reviews 27 legal decisions published between 1989 and 1998 involving students with learning disabilities and parental requests for specific reading methods selected and used by the school district. These decisions were analyzed in an effort to look at specific parental requests for particular reading methods and the courts' response to this type of request. The review of these decisions indicated that parents of students with learning disabilities were of the opinion that the basic tenets of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) were violated when their child did not receive reading instruction using a specific method. This premise was based primarily on the lack of academic progress made by the child in reading. Parents also expressed concern over the appropriateness of the reading programs offered by the school district and voiced the sentiment that their child would show academic progress if the school district used one of several multisensory methods for reading instruction. The legal issues are defined and interpreted through a careful examination of existing decisions at several judicial levels. Rationales employed by the state-level hearing officers, judges, and federal agencies in reaching decisions related to educational methods and children with learning disabilities are discussed in detail and implications are presented.
Without effective approaches to reading instruction, many students who experience reading problems at a young age continue to have difficulties into high school (Lyon, 1995). Researchers and practitioners alike have searched tirelessly for materials and methods that remediate the decoding and comprehension problems these students encounter. This interest in remediating students' reading problems has yielded an extensive literature base on reading instruction and a myriad published reading programs.
Historically, the dominant approaches to reading instruction and remediation for students with learning disabilities (LD) have utilized multisensory, synthetic techniques originally developed by Samual Orton, Anna Gillingham, and Bessie Stillman (Clark, 1988). These approaches are characterized by the use of multisensory feedback to teach individual grapheme-phoneme correspondences, along with explicit instruction and practice in "sound blending." These methods place heavy emphasis on direct instruction and the development of alphabetic reading skills. Most of the research supporting these methods has come from case studies (Frankiewicz, 1985; Ogden, Hindman, & Turner, 1989). The Lindamood approach, for example, has been found successful in enhancing phonological awareness and spelling skills in very poor readers with LD (Kennedy & Blackman, 1993). In addition, the Orton-Gillingham method has proven to be effective at remediating the decoding problems of students with LD (Vickerey, Reynolds, & Cochran, 1987). Other approaches employing a primarily synthetic phonics method, but with less emphasis on multisensory experiences, also have been evaluated positively with children with LD (Brown & Felton, 1990; Epstein & Cullinan, 1981; Gittelman & Feingold, 1983).
While basal reading programs are used widely by teachers in public schools (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985), multisensory experiences, direct instruction, and the development of alphabetic reading skills may not be a part of the instructional methods included in these programs (Meyer, Green, & Crummey, 1986). These two instructional conditions, and other factors, have led a group of parents of students with LD to question the appropriateness of programs and methods used by schools to teach their children to read (e.g., E.S. v. Independent School District, 1998; Moubry v. Independent School District, 1998; Austin Independent School District, 1997; Brandywine School District, 1994; Garden City Public Schools, 1991).
This is particularly the case for students who have not made adequate progress in school. Consequently, parents have made specific requests that their children be taught decoding strategies using multisensory approaches. In fact, some parents feel so strongly about this instructional choice that they have initiated due process to mandate the use of these methods with their children in public schools (Moubry v. Independent School District, 1998; North Attelborough Public Schools, 1995; Waltham Public Schools, 1995; Brandywine School District, 1994).
The situation becomes more complex as parents' requests for the use of certain methods in public schools have been denied. As a result, many of these parents have chosen to remove their children from public school settings and place them in one of a number of private schools that have based their reading instruction on multisensory approaches. Of the more than 450 private schools featured in Sargent's (1998) Handbook of Private Schools, many offer a variety of programs for students with learning disabilities. After making the decision to enroll their children in private schools, parents have found their children to be making significant gains in reading and have concluded that multisensory methods are responsible for this improvement. However, these programs are costly, ranging from $2,500 to $42,000 a year for tuition. Consequently, parents look to other sources of funding and are seeking tuition reimbursement from public school districts in increasingly greater numbers. They make their placement decisions on the grounds that their children are not receiving an appropriate education in public schools (or a Free Appropriate Public Education-FAPE) as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In addition, many of these same parents have requested that public schools use particular methods of reading instruction employed in the private schools (e.g., Evans v. The Board of Education of the Rhinebeck Central School District, 1996; Wall v. Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, 1996; Hawaii Department of Education, 1997; Montgomery County Public Schools, 1996; Oak View Union School District, 1995; Somerville Public Schools, 1995; Waltham Public Schools, 1995).
Parental dissatisfaction with the reading instruction provided in public school programs continues as the expense of litigation and private school tuition rises. With this in mind, it is worthwhile to examine the reasons behind this sudden spate of legal pursuit involving parents of children with LD and school districts as a way to possibly mitigate these differences. In this article, we will present a review of the due process hearings and courts' decisions related to (a) parents' requests for specific methods of instruction, and (b) tuition reimbursement for attending private schools that provide such instruction, and a discussion of the findings.
REVIEW OF LEGAL DECISIONS
A review of legal decisions was carried out to examine specific parental requests and the legal decisions made by courts regarding reading methods. The primary sources for locating the legal decisions were the Individuals with Disabilities Law Report (IDELR) and West's Education Law Reporter. Several descriptors assisted in finding the reported decisions and agency actions in the IDELR. These included "Educational Methodology," "FAPE," and "Learning Disabilities." In West's Education Law Reporter, cases were identified under the headings "Public Schools," "Placements," and "Reimbursement." All decisions published between 1989 and 1998 that involved students with language-based learning disabilities were examined. Some of the older decisions (i.e., decisions prior to about 1994) primarily focused on parents of students with LD who requested that the school district provide reimbursements for private placements they had secured for their children. In these decisions, parents were not specifically addressing alternate educational methods (e.g., Doe v. The Board of Education of Tullahoma City Schools, 1993; Lenn v. Portland School Committee, 1993). In many of the more recent decisions, the issue of alternate placements has given rise to an associated issue, parental request for alternate educational programs and methods.
Since 1989, 27 decisions were found wherein parents of students with reading difficulties were not completely satisfied with the educational program offered by their school district (see Table 1). In some situations, the primary issue was method, that is, parents contended that the district's program for reading instruction was not appropriate and that a certain method would be more appropriate for their children's needs. In others, parents did not explicitly request a certain reading method; instead, the primary issue was reimbursement for expenses incurred when children were unilaterally placed in private schools. The two types of issues are directly related because parents placed their children in private placements because of their dissatisfaction with the school district's educational program. Several decisions addressed overlapping issues (i.e., reimbursement and instructional method). The distinctions among the decisions and their similarities are important and will be discussed in detail.
Table 1 Summary of Legal Decisions Involving Parental Requests for Specific Reading Methods/Programs and/or Tuition Reimbursement
Cases (by Federal) Parental Request Circuit) Citation Program First Circuit Kathleen H. v. 28 IDELR 1067 No specific method Massachusetts Dept. (1st Cir. 1998) identified-wanted all of Educ. recommendations of independent evaluation included in IEP Grafton Public 22 IDELR 528 Wilson method School (SEA Mass. 1995) North Attelborough 23 IDELR 285 Language-based Public School (SEA Mass. 1995) reading program Somerville Public 22 IDELR 764 Wilson method School (SEA Mass. 1995) Waltham Public 23 IDELR 168 Orton-Gillingham School (SEA Mass. 1995) method Hampden-Wilbraham 16 EHLR 534 Language-based Regional Sch. Dist. (SEA Mass. 1990) reading program Norton Public 16 EHLR 832 Multisensory approach Schools (SEA Mass. 1990) Walpole Public 16 EHLR 701 Orton-Gillingham Schools (SEA Mass. 1990) method Second Circuit Evans v. Board of 930 F. Supp. 83 Orton-Gillingham Educ. of Rhinebeck (S.D.N.Y. 1996) method Central Sch. Dist. Pascoe v. 29 IDELR 31 Orton-Gillingham Washingtonville (S.D.N.Y. 1998) method Central Sch. Dist Wall v. Mattituck, 945 F. Supp. 501 Orton-Gillingham Cutchogue (E.D.N.Y. 1996). method Sch. Dist. Rochester 18 IDELR 327 Orton-Gillingham Sch. Dist. (SEA Vt. 1991) method Third …
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Publication information: Article title: A Legal Perspective on the Use of Specific Reading Methods for Students with Learning Disabilities. Contributors: Bhat, Preetha - Author, Rapport, Mary Jane K. - Author, Griffin, Cynthia C. - Author. Journal title: Learning Disability Quarterly. Volume: 23. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 2000. Page number: 283. © 2008 Council for Learning Disabilities. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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