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Idaho legislature struggle over two competing dyslexia-related bills

Senate Bill 1280 was unanimously passed in the Idaho Senate . However, there are no plans to hear it in the House Education Committee, according to Chair Lance Clow.

BOISE, Idaho — Two bills in the legislature aim to bring more resources and services to students with dyslexia in Idaho schools. However, supporters of the Senate bill believe their proposed legislation is not progressing because of the other House bill and its connections.

Robin Zikmund knew her son was different from an early age in school. 

"Most of the moms I support have exactly the same journey as me," said Zikmund, founder of Decoding Dyslexia of Idaho.

She said she noticed her son wasn't grasping the same concepts as others were at his age. Zikmund said by the third grade, her son's peers were reading to learn while he was still learning to read.

"He's in the seventh grade still reading at a first-grade level," Zikmund said. She added he dreaded going to school because of his lack of reading skills and even contemplated suicide. 

Eventually, she was able to take her son to an outside source to find out he had dyslexia.

"I took the evaluation eagerly to school for them to tell me, 'Idaho doesn't support dyslexia. We don't have any resources. We can put your son in a reading program but dyslexia isn't a word that is used,'" Zikmund said. 

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability and "results in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading, according to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). IDA said dyslexia affects 15 to 20 percent of people in the world.

Idaho is the only state in the country to not have any legislature to create resources for those with dyslexia in school, according to Zikmund and Decoding Dyslexia of Idaho.

"It's been a long, really journey," Zikmund said.

In 2018, Zikmund said she and Decoding Dyslexia reached out to the Idaho State Department of Education to find out how to get more resources for students with dyslexia, like a state dyslexia handbook in schools, early childhood dyslexia screenings, teacher training and more.

"At the time, the State Department just had no interest," Zikmund said. "They said they had everything covered and they didn't know what we were worried about and sent us on our way."

It isn't only parents that are frustrated with the state's lack of resources and guidance when it comes to dyslexia in schools, Idaho teachers are too.

Council Elementary School special education teacher Jordan Atnip said when she first started teaching she felt lost looking for guidance on how to help students with dyslexia. 

"There was nothing that was in place, no knowledge that was passed on, no physical resources," Atnip said. She added sometimes students are unnecessarily put in special education classes because they haven't been diagnosed or screened for dyslexia. 

"They've gotten so far behind by the time that it's recognized that [special education classes] are the only place for them."

Zikmund and Atnip are both in support of Senate Bill 1280, which hopes to bring resources to schools for students with dyslexia and improve reading proficiency in Idaho. It was a bill created by Sen. Carl Crabtree (R) of Grangeville and Sen. Robert Blair (R) of Kendrick and cosponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle (R) of Midvale.

The bill would require all students K-5 to be assessed for characteristics of dyslexia when they first enroll at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. More screening would be provided for students who have dyslexia that would help identify specific intervention techniques.

Elementary school teachers would also be required to complete classes on how to identify the characteristics of dyslexia and how to work with students with it.

"We got it through the Senate unanimously. Seldom does an important bill like this get through the Senate unanimously," Crabtree told reporters Tuesday. He added it was sent over to the House Education committee after Feb. 16 but has not been heard.

Lawmakers in support of the Senate bill believe nothing has moved forward because of a similar dyslexia-related House bill introduced by Idaho State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, House bill 655.

"This is doing a disservice to a group of students," said Blair.

The House bill would require screening Idaho K-3 students for characteristics of dyslexia and incorporate instruction and intervention for those with dyslexia. In the fiscal note, it said the cost for a full-time state dyslexia coordinator would be $97,000, with additional costs of up to $2 million for dyslexia-related resources, training and instruction.

House Education Committee Chair Lance Clow (R) of Twin Falls said as of now, there are no plans to hear the Senate bill in committee. Clow, who is a co-sponsor of the house bill, told KTVB he isn't holding it because he thinks one bill is better than the other and is not trying to block a bill.

"I think they both have some really good elements and I would like to see us find the best way," said Clow.

However, parents like Zikmund believe the Senate bill is the best option for the state moving forward. She said the House bill is not doing enough to help students with dyslexia.

"It's not going to shift the needle, it's not what the experts know that we need. It's just more of the same," Zikmund said.

KTVB has reached out to the Idaho State Board of Education and Supt. Sherri Ybarra's office for a statement and is awaiting a response.

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