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District committed to all kinds of learners | Island Forum
I recently became aware that a dedicated group of concerned parents have organized under the name MIFAPE. I understand these parents are strong advocates for children who have dyslexia, dysgraphia and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The Mercer Island School District is aware and takes very seriously its responsibility to educate children who have disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires the district to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Children receive services under IDEA during their school day, which may come in many forms and based on individual needs. Sometimes these services augment instruction in the classroom. Other times, these services supplant those classroom experiences.
The Mercer Island School District provides levels or tiers of intervention to children who require additional learning assistance. Many children who struggle in reading, writing and/or math receive additional intervention from trained educators in all our schools. Children who are diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities, including dyslexia and dysgraphia, may also receive accommodations and/or specialized instruction.
Mercer Island classrooms are places where children receive instruction using multisensory approaches. These approaches are best suited for children with dyslexia and dysgraphia.
Some parents have expressed the opinion that the district has failed students with dyslexia and/or dysgraphia because we don’t have a dedicated classroom using a specific instructional design. I recently learned, however, that a northwest Washington school district eliminated these specialized classrooms and most of the curricula just this school year, after realizing that the research did not support such an instructional design.
In response to parent concerns expressed by MIFAPE last spring, district leaders held a symposium on “struggling learners.” School principals and program leaders met with parents to hear concerns about the design and delivery of programs for children who struggle in school. Following a number of rich conversations, the district decided to move forward and partner with the University of Washington, as well as other experts, to assist us in refining our educational program for children with special needs.
Going forward, it is my hope that concerned parents who believe their child’s needs are not being met will contact their school Principal and classroom teacher to discuss ways to help their child. We are committed to creating a more personalized learning environment that is responsive to students’ strengths, needs, learning styles, interests, passions and affinities as part of the district’s 2020 Vision.
I look forward to working with MIFAPE and others to continuously improve the quality of our public education on Mercer Island.
Dr. Gary Plano is Superintendent of Schools on Mercer Island.