Two bills and a resolution that would require more training for teachers on dyslexia and other reading disabilities unanimously passed the Assembly Monday, with the Ocean City mother and daughter who inspired the bills there to see it happen.
“I was shocked,” Beth Ravelli said in a phone interview after the vote. “I just kept staring at (the vote tally). I couldn’t believe it was unanimous. I even took a picture of it.”
Her daughter, Samantha, a sophomore at Ocean City High School, was invited by state Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, a primary sponsor of the bills, to attend the Assembly session and push the button for his “yes” vote on the bills.
The event was also filmed by Matthew Badger, who is featuring the Ravellis in a documentary he is making on dyslexia to help raise awareness of the neurological disorder that makes it difficult to process letters and their sounds.
Ravelli said the attitude in Trenton has changed dramatically since she first began to fight for better education for her daughter and other children with dyslexia seven years ago. Her first attempt met some resistance, but did result in a statewide Reading Disabilities Task Force, which made several recommendations on which the bills were based. Groups such as Decoding Dyslexia have also formed to help raise awareness statewide.
The two bills and one resolution that passed Monday would:
Require 20 hours of professional training for all public school teachers on reading disabilities, and require the state Department of Education to provide training opportunities;
Direct the state Board of Education to incorporate the International Dyslexia Association’s definition of dyslexia into special education regulations
Urge the State Board of Education to develop a special instructional certificate for teachers of students with dyslexia.
A fourth bill that would require all kindergarten children to be screened for dyslexia passed the Assembly Education Committee but was not included on Monday’s full Assembly agenda. That bill had raised some questions because of the potential cost.
But Ravelli said getting the definition of dyslexia into special education regulations is crucial to making sure students get the proper programs.
Companion bills in the Senate still must be heard by the Senate Education Committee and, if approved, go before the full Senate. Ravelli said after the warm reception the bills got in the Assembly she is more optimistic.
“This time people came up to me to discuss the bills, and they were really educated on the issues,” she said. “It was such a different experience.”
Albano became a champion for the cause after visiting Samantha’s class in Ocean City and watching her finally learn to read using a specialized program. He said he presented the bills on behalf of all children in the state with dyslexia. He issued a statement saying all children need basic reading and writing abilities to succeed in school and in life.
“Children with dyslexia can learn effectively with appropriate teaching, but if the instruction is inadequate, it can have devastating consequences that will follow these children into adulthood,” Albano said. “This struggle can cause significant stress, lead to poor self-image and discourage students from continuing with school.”
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