Can a student have dyslexia and NOT have a learning disability?

A federal judge in Texas has come pretty close to saying that dyslexia automatically qualifies as a learning disability under IDEA.  This is a case in which the district determined that the 4th grader had dyslexia, but did not qualify as having a learning disability. This decision was based on a thorough Cross-Battery assessment by a qualified evaluator.  Testing showed that none of the student’s cognitive abilities were below average. The student did not demonstrate the “pattern of strengths and weaknesses” that is a sign of a learning disability. So the district decided that the student did not qualify as SLD. But screening showed the student to have dyslexia and the district did provide dyslexia services to address this.

The court ruled that the district committed a procedural error by not identifying the student as having a learning disability.  The judge noted that the legal definition of “specific learning disability” offers several conditions as examples of an SLD. One of those is “dyslexia.”  So as far as the judge was concerned, this was pretty simple:

The IDEA’s statutory language explicitly includes dyslexia as a disorder included as an SLD.  The District diagnosed [the student] with dyslexia; therefore, the District violated the IDEA by determining in its assessment that [the student] no longer met the eligibility requirements for an SLD and thus was no longer entitled to Special Education or an IEP.

This turned out to be a harmless error. Even though the district did not label the student as having SLD and did not create an IEP to address it, the district continued to provide good services that enabled the student to make progress.  No harm, no foul.  For the district involved in this case, this decision is vindication.  It’s a win.

But the decision is likely to drive educational diagnosticians batty.  The court holds that once a student has been identified as having dyslexia, no further testing is required. Look at this quote:

In the present case, [the student] has already been diagnosed with an eligible condition, thus bypassing both the need for additional testing to determine SLD status and the District’s discretion in making such a determination.

In other words: if the student has dyslexia, test no more: the kid is eligible.  Write an IEP.

This ruling is not consistent with the newly revised Dyslexia Handbook we have. The Handbook tells us that students with dyslexia might be eligible under IDEA, or they might be eligible under 504. The Handbook also suggests that some kids with dyslexia are not “substantially limited” in a major life activity, and therefore, are not eligible under either IDEA or 504.   So we have that, and now we have a federal court telling us that it’s simpler than that: that all kids with dyslexia are eligible as SLD under IDEA.

Confused? You should be.  I think the main point to be made is that the definitions and procedures for testing and identification of students with dyslexia are ambiguous enough that second guessing is inevitable. The case is William V. v. Copperas Cove ISD, decided by the federal court for the Western District of Texas on December 10, 2018.


Tomorrow: have you heard about “Bannergate”?