The state Department of Education has notified schools districts about how they should begin implementing new laws to address dyslexia and other reading disabilities.

Advocates who fought to get the laws said they are a beginning, but more should also be done to also make parents aware of the laws and services for their children.

“I am happy that we finally got something with some direction,” said Liz Barnes, of Plumsted Township, a founder of Decoding Dyslexia New Jersey, which has tracked the laws on their web site and Facebook page. “But the districts are still able to come up with their own plans and we just have to find out if it’s the right one.”

The April 15 letter includes a definition of dyslexia that districts should be begin using even before it is formally incorporated into the department’s Special Education code. State Department of Education spokesman Richard Vespucci said the new code is expected to be introduced to the state Board of Education for approval later this year.

The letter also addresses the requirements that teachers get two hours of professional development per year in reading disabilities, but leaves the implementation and documentation up to school districts as part of the state’s 20-hour teacher training requirement.

The law also requires that students who have exhibited signs of a reading disability be formally screened by the end of the first semester of second grade. That law will take effect for the 2014-15 school year. The letter states that districts may already be screening students for reading difficulties, and may be able to continue using the same screening tool to also consider the potential for reading disabilities and dyslexia.

The state is expected to develop and distribute intervention strategies for students, and the letter said districts will be notified when they are posted on the NJDOE website.

Barnes said she is happy to see the letter included a definition of dyslexia so that parents can begin using it in their child’s Individual Education Plans. She said it still may be be difficult for parents to get the services they need, but at least now districts have to acknowledge the diagnosis.

“It should change the conversation because they can’t say (dyslexia) doesn’t exist,” she said.

Beth Ravelli, of Ocean City, who began the drive for the new laws when her daughter, Samantha was diagnosed with dyslexia, said more information also must be available to parents, and parents must take the initiative to educate themselves keep up with what is happening.

“I’m okay with the letter, but it only went to schools,” she said. “Nobody’s really talking to the parents and telling them what they need to know and how it’s going to affect them.”

Barnes said Decoding Dyslexia is participating in a workshop on May 3 sponsored by Cooper Learning Center at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford. Information about the workship and the NJDOE letter have been posted on the Decoding Dyslexia NJ Facebook page.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.