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City Schools of Decatur creates task forces to focus on dyslexia, 504 eligibility, teacher burnout

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City Schools of Decatur creates task forces to focus on dyslexia, 504 eligibility, teacher burnout

Elizabeth Wilson School Support Center, City Schools of Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur is launching three new task forces, one of which will focus on how the school district addresses dyslexia.

Director of English Language Arts and Social Studies Courtney Simon will be leading this team. The school system will seek teachers, parents, and community members to serve on this team.

“This team once formed will review how CSD is implementing our dyslexia pilot, our instructional programming to ensure that we are following the science of reading, along with serving as a resource for parents who need more information and resources about navigating school once their child has been diagnosed with dyslexia,” Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said at the Sept. 13 Decatur School Board meeting.

Throughout this year, parents have been asking CSD to improve reading instruction and address challenges many have faced when it comes to getting help for students who have dyslexia or other learning differences.

Parents have felt they were obstructed from getting 504 or Individualized Education Program plans because their kids, most of them diagnosed with dyslexia, were still considered on grade level. Some families decided to bolt because virtual school made the problems worse.

“We ended up pulling her out because of virtual learning,” parent Pam Sussin said of her decision to remove her daughter from the district. “Went to Howard School, which was truly a remarkable life-changing experience.”

District officials acknowledge they could do a better job of communicating with these parents, but said they are limited by state rules on when they can provide accommodations and services to students.

“We have very specific guidelines from the state and federal government for when students can and cannot get an individualized education plan or a 504,” Fehrman said. “We have to follow those guidelines 100%. We cannot deviate from those. It’s a long process.”

At several school board meetings, parents have raised concerns about the district’s reading program, especially when it comes to students who have dyslexia or other learning differences. They have asked the district to fully embrace the science of reading, train all elementary school teachers in structured literacy practices and eliminate balanced literacy programs.

The second task force will look at the multi-tiered system of supports and 504 eligibility process. It will be led by Karen Newton-Scott, principal at Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary School. MTSS is a tiered system of support that integrates intervention and assessment withing a school-wide, multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and reduce behavioral issues, according to the CSD website.

“The MTSS/Eligibility task force will review our processes and procedures, assess where we need to improve and review how our processes are implemented at each school,” Fehrman said. “The task force will also review what other district with high-quality MTSS and eligibility practices are doing. They will make recommendations on where CSD needs to improve our processes and knowledge regarding MTSS all the way through eligibility for special education services.”

Parents, teachers, school and district leaders, and members of the Georgia Department of Education will serve on this task force.

The third task force will be focused on teacher burnout, which will be led by members of the Teacher Advisory Council.

“This group will use the report published by the state on teacher burnout as their foundation to determine if the same major reasons for teacher burnout in the state are aligned with what we are seeing in CSD,” Fehrman said. “They will then develop recommendations for the district on how these areas can be addressed.”

The timing of the task forces is key as the school district is in the process of creating a strategic plan.

“The information gleaned from the work of these teams will be immensely important as we address how CSD will improve in these critical areas over the next five years,” Fehrman said.

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