Today was a long-awaited and hard-earned victory for the children of South Carolina!
Stakeholders, parents, children, as well as those from across the dyslexia community took part in a ceremonial bill signing by Gov. Henry McMaster in the statehouse Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. Standing alongside many of the grassroots advocates who helped shine a light on the need for dyslexia screening in South Carolina, Gov. McMaster signed into law legislation that I was proud to sponsor advocating for and providing intervention and remediation for students with dyslexia. The South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association, the state department of education, and our institutions of higher learning, the medical community, as well as those in the speech and language community also took part in the celebratory signing. Standout athlete and WNBA star A’ja Wilson’s father, Roscoe Wilson, was among those in attendance on her behalf.
In addition to the many groups and individuals recognized on Thursday, Gov. McMaster also honored Lakes and Bridges Charter School, the first free school for dyslexia in South Carolina and only the fifth such school in the country, which opened this year in Pickens County.
“I want to thank Judge Gary Clary and everyone working with him,” Gov. McMaster said. “He was the primary sponsor of this bill, and it’s been a long time coming but it’s here now.”
Increasingly, lawmakers and educators acknowledge that dyslexia must be recognized and interventions must be provided earlier to children who are diagnosed with difficulties acquiring and processing language. The newly signed bill now requires that the state Department of Education provide a universal screening tool, which local school districts can use to screen K-2 students in kindergarten and determine if they have characteristics of dyslexia. And now, with the governor’s signature, it will be effective for the 2019-2020 academic school year.
This is a tremendously happy day for so many of us, including Sen. Thomas Alexander of Clemson, state Superintendent Molly Spearman, and my many co-sponsors, committee chairs and educational supporters who helped make this a reality. In addition to allowing for parents to request screening for their student, the bill empowers school districts to bring together school-based problem solving teams to analyze the data that comes from the screening and then come up with ways to help teachers plan effective teaching methods for students who may need it.
As a retired court judge and the grandfather of two children with dyslexia, I have seen too many families who have suffered the consequences of dyslexia in the absence of educational alternatives and interventions. This legislation, however, is going to change things in all our public schools in South Carolina — even those that aren’t specifically tailored for dyslexic students like Lakes and Bridges. “We have no idea how much good this bill will do,” I was honored to tell the audience. “1 in 5 children suffers from dyslexia, 20 percent of our population.” And that contributes to far-reaching issues, including crime rates, poverty, and more.
Two years ago, I was proud to sponsor and pass into law H. 5024, which represented important legislation requiring all literacy coaches and literacy teachers in K-3 be trained on dyslexia and related disorders, including evidenced-based screenings, instructional methods, interventions, and more. And moving into next year, I plan to pre-file legislation to screen South Carolina’s prisoners for dyslexia in the 2019 legislative session.
It has been my distinct honor, and it will continue to be my honor and privilege, to advocate for legislation that furthers the process of addressing dyslexia. We know that if the characteristics of dyslexia are identified early on, teachers are better able to determine exactly how to teach and meet the needs of children who may be struggling.
These opportunities are about giving all children a better chance at long-term success, and that builds a better South Carolina for all of us!