A group of bills that would help students with dyslexia and other reading disorders get the specific diagnosis and programs they need was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
The bills were inspired by an Ocean City student, Samantha Ravelli, and her mother, Beth, who have fought for years to raise awareness of dyslexia and reading disorders.
The bills have been approved by the state Assembly. Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, a primary sponsor of the bills, said by phone he would try to get the bills posted to the full Senate next week, so they could be voted on before the end of the session.
Beth Ravelli was unable to attend the hearing, but several other parents who have joined the now-statewide effort attended and testified, including Liz Barnes and Dana Marsh from Decoding Dyslexia and representatives of several education groups. Ravelli said by phone she would attend when the bills are up for a full Senate vote and was thrilled that after years of work, the bills are so close to becoming law.
The four bills would require screening of all kindergarten students; would require teachers to get 20 hours of training on reading disabilities; require the state Department of Education to provide training opportunities for teachers; and would incorporate the International Dyslexia Association's definition of dyslexia into special education regulations.
State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, questioned why there were so many bills on the agenda and said the committee should first hear from experts on the topics and do more research.
Van Drew said the bills were based on the recommendations of a state reading disabilities task force, on which he had served, and they had spent a lot of time researching the issues.
"This was the result of not just a group of politicians. It was the result of specialists, experts, teachers and parents who put in a lot of time," he said.
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The New Jersey School Boards Association supported the bills, but asked that some funds be included in the bills to cover the cost of the screening. Questions were raised about the screening process, also.