5th Circuit affirms what we thought all along about dyslexia. You have to “need” special education to be eligible for it.

The case of William V. v. Copperas Cove ISD stirred things up last year when a federal judge held that students who are identified as having dyslexia are automatically eligible for special education under IDEA.  The judge overlooked the element of “educational need” and focused only on the fact that dyslexia is listed in federal regulations as an example of a condition that can qualify as a learning disability.  In the judge’s analysis it was a very simple equation:

Dyslexia=SLD=IDEA eligible

Now the 5th Circuit has overturned the judge’s decision.  The Court noted that eligibility hinges on two factors—a qualifying disability and an educational need.  The Circuit Court faulted the lower court for failing “to engage with the second part of the test.” So the case was returned to the lower court for further proceedings.

Educational diagnosticians will likely be relieved by this decision, as it confirms what we have always believed, and what the Dyslexia Handbook says. Dyslexia is listed in federal regulations as an example of a learning disability—but the law still requires some showing of a need for “specially designed instruction.”  Students with dyslexia are on a wide spectrum. Some will need specially designed instruction. Others will not.

The Court dipped its judicial toes into the murky waters of eligibility. Key Quote:

While the line between “special education” and “related services” may be murky, case law suggests that where a child is being educated in the regular classrooms of a public school with only minor accommodations and is making educational progress, the child does not “need” special education within the meaning of the IDEA.

So carry on, evaluating each child individually, with an eye toward what level of services the student needs. The case of William V. v. Copperas Cove ISD was decided in an unpublished opinion from the 5th Circuit on August 8, 2019.


Tomorrow: Houston ISD handles a student-to-student harassment case well.