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Dyslexia therapy certification legislation awaits Governor’s signature

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

Sen. Jeremy England, R-Vancleave, presents legislation in the Senate Chamber at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Lawmakers in both chambers are considering bills that survived their committee deadline. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • Senator England says the new law would open “a Swiss Army knife of a teacher” for Mississippi’s public schools.

A bill that aims to bring dyslexia therapy to more students has reached the Governor’s desk, but the author of the legislation is worried an interest group is working to convince Governor Tate Reeves (R) to veto it. 

This session, State Senator Jeremy England (R) introduced SB 2681, a bill that would allow educators who hold a dyslexia therapy certification from another state to provide that service to students in Mississippi’s public schools. 

“What we would be opening up for is a Swiss Army knife of a teacher,” Senator England told Magnolia Tribune on Friday. “Our current law is preventing them from doing that.”

Yet, the Coast lawmakers said he is concerned a non-public dyslexia therapy school is trying to convince the Governor not to sign the bill, naming The 3-D School in Petal. 

“They want us to keep with the one-track path that we have, which is not beneficial. We’re not allowing people who may be very well qualified to provide that service,” England said. 

Magnolia Tribune reached out to The 3-D School to ask if they were advocating for the Governor to veto the bill. The 3-D School Director, Dr. Cena Holifield, said in response that, “the information you have received is inaccurate. The 3D School remains solely focused on the education of children with dyslexia in Mississippi.”

A request for clarification as to whether the school is pushing Governor Reeves to veto the bill or not did not garner a subsequent response from Dr. Holifield by press time. 

Magnolia Tribune also sent a request to Governor Reeves’ office as to whether he intends to sign the bill into law or not, but no response was received by publication time.

The deadline for Governor Reeves to sign the bill is Saturday, April 20th, Senator England said.

Despite his concerns, England remains optimistic that Governor Reeves will sign the bill into law.

“But I also have confidence in the fact that we have a governor that is a conservative; he’s not a protectionist,” England said. “I know he wants to help those with dyslexia in Mississippi and if he takes a serious look at this, he’ll see that’s what we’re doing here.”

Because of current law, teachers with the related certifications in question that were earned out-of-state before coming to Mississippi can only teach. If those educators also want to provide therapy for the learning disorder, they would have to pay to attend a university in Mississippi to earn a master’s in education degree for Dyslexia Therapy. Senator England said that creates a monopoly, while also preventing more students from receiving the help they need to achieve success in the classroom. 

Traci Barrientos, Executive Director of the Lighthouse School for Dyslexia, said those degrees are offered at the University of Southern Mississippi, William Carey University, and Mississippi College. However, England and Barrientos believe that if a teacher already holds a similar certification from another state, it should be transferrable to Mississippi. 

“We have multiple programs across the country that train educators to do this work,” Barrientos stated. “Right now, we have highly qualified people coming to our state, but they might not have a master’s in dyslexia, so they don’t qualify under our current laws.”

Senator England said he has been working with Barrientos in developing his bill, adding that the need for the treatment is growing. Barrientos said her school started with 24 students in 2020 but this year there are 82 students. Next year, she is expecting 96 to 102 students. 

Another benefit of the legislation, Senator England sees, it that providing this therapy to more students will potentially positively impact the growing prison population.

According to statistics England gathered while working on the bill, “some of the smartest people in the nation suffer from dyslexia.” England said about 50 percent of the scientists that work for NASA have dyslexia, and conversely about 50 percent of the prison population does as well. He said those statistics show that if a child suffering from the learning disorder does not receive the help they need, they may be labeled as troublemakers, or worse, by educators who do not know there is a learning disorder at play.

“When you do that, you steer these kids on the wrong path,” England said.

One of the ways a child diagnosed with dyslexia currently receives treatment is through non-profit special purpose schools like the Lighthouse School for Dyslexia. However, the facility is located in Ocean Springs, forcing parents who do not have closer options to drive an hour or more.

Barrientos said students who attend her school come from as far away as Pearl River County, Stone County and Greene County.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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