Gov. Chris Christie on Friday signed a bill into law that officially recognizes dyslexia in New Jersey schools.
Advocates for the new law said they will continue to push for a law that requires all students be screened for dyslexia and other reading disabilities.
"I'm so excited, it's just unbelievable," said Beth Ravelli, of Ocean City, who spearheaded a statewide effort eight years ago to raise awareness of dyslexia after her daughter, Samantha, then in third grade, struggled to learn to read.
The new law requires that the state Board of Education incorporate the International Dyslexia Association's definition of dyslexia into special education regulations. Currently, students with dyslexia, a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to process language, have been identified only as having a specific learning disability. Advocates for the law said as a result students often did not get the specific type of programs they need to help them learn to read.
Ravelli said while her first battle was to help her daughter, her mission quickly became a statewide effort to raise awareness and help all children. Her first efforts led to a state Reading Disabilities Task Force, on which she served. Other parents and groups such as Decoding Dyslexia also began lobbying for the bills, helping to give them a higher profile around the state.
Samantha is now entering her junior year at Ocean City High School, and while she still gets some private tutoring, she is succeeding and last year made the honor roll.
"Sam's dancing around," Ravelli said after being notified the bill had been signed. Both Samantha and Beth had testified before Legislative hearings on the bills.
On Wednesday, Christie signed two related bills requiring that all teachers get annual training in reading disabilities and that the state Department of Education provide training opportunities for teachers.
Local state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Nelson Albano, both D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, were the primary sponsors of the package of bills, which later also gained support from other legislators. Van Drew said Friday they will continue to work to get the screening bill passed into law.
A modified version of that bill did pass the Senate in June. It requires that all children be screened by the end of first grade. There were concerns about the cost of screening, but Van Drew said he and Albano will continue to work with everyone to develop a bill that will be approved by both houses.
"It will be a little more work, but at least as of now no school district can say that there is no such thing as dyslexia in New Jersey," Van Drew said. He said Ravelli showed that one person can make a huge difference.
Ravelli said she will continue to work for the screening bill as well. She said she has learned over the last eight years to be patient but persistent.
"It takes time, and you don't always get 100 percent of what you want," he said. "It took eight years to get this far. But look at how many thousands of students will now be helped."
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