Students with Reading Disorders Sue Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) for Failing to Educate Them

Despite the availability of effective teaching methods, BUSD refused
to alter its policies and practices, leaving students of all ages who
have reading disorders without the basic tool of literacy

BERKELEY, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Disability rights lawyers filed a complaint in federal court today
against Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), the BUSD
Superintendent, the BUSD Board of Education, and the Directors of the
BUSD Board of Education, for systemically failing to educate students
with reading disorders, and students who are suspected to have reading
disorders. BUSD is being sued for failure to comply with federal and
state laws that ensure all students receive a free appropriate public
education. The lawsuit was filed by Disability
Rights Education & Defense Fund
(DREDF), Jacobson
Education Law
, Inc., and international law firm Goodwin
with the United States District Court for the Northern District of

“This is a civil rights class action that challenges a school district’s
failure to teach children with reading disorders such as dyslexia to
learn to read,” said Larisa
, DREDF Staff Attorney. “Without appropriate reading
intervention services, these students fall further and further behind
academically. Students with reading disorders in BUSD and every public
school in this country have the fundamental right to learn to read and
participate fully with their peers.”

Children with reading disorders have extreme difficulty learning skills
needed to become literate, such as decoding (sounding out) words. Many
children with reading disabilities are incredibly intelligent and simply
need to be taught how to read in different ways than their peers.
Reading disorders are prevalent and affect many people. It is estimated
that 6 to 17 percent of the population in the United States demonstrates
some sign of dyslexia, making it the most prevalent learning disability
by far.

Despite being aware for years of needed changes to its policies and
practices, BUSD has systemically failed to identify, evaluate, and
provide appropriate reading intervention services and accommodations to
students with reading disorders that are necessary for them to learn to
read and advance academically from grade to grade.

Named plaintiffs, some of whom have special educational plans known as
Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or Section 504 plans in place,
have nevertheless struggled unnecessarily with literacy because of the
district’s across-the-board refusals. As a result, plaintiffs are at
risk of multiple academic, developmental, and social-emotional harms
that could have devastating lifelong consequences. Plaintiffs represent
a purported class of current and future students who experience or will
experience similar failures that start upon entering the district and
persist through high school years:

  • Student A is a 2nd grader at a BUSD elementary
    school. This school year, BUSD determined that she is ineligible for
    an IEP, despite having clear characteristics of a child with a reading
    disorder and associated high levels of academic frustration that were
    evident when she entered the district in kindergarten and which have
    continued. Trying to keep her from emotional suffering, and falling
    further behind her peers, this student’s parents have had to privately
    fund educational services the district is obligated to provide.
  • Student B is a 4th grader at a BUSD elementary
    school with learning disabilities who received an IEP after over a
    year of delay and no early intervention reading services. Although he
    has an IEP now, the district has deprived him of direct, appropriate
    academic interventions and services, and as a result, this student has
    experienced severe losses of educational opportunity, and
    developmental detriment. He currently reads years behind his peers.
  • Student C is a 9th grader at Berkeley High School
    who previously attended private school. Upon entering BUSD for this
    school year, the district provided an inadequate IEP with
    inappropriate goals and no meaningful services to address his
    significant academic needs due to his inability to read at or near his
    grade level. The district’s failures include a refusal to provide
    appropriate or useful assistive technology that is necessary for him
    to access the curriculum.
  • Student D is a 12th grader at Berkeley High School
    who previously attended private school that provided some
    accommodations she needed, while her parents privately paid for
    intensive academic interventions and supports. She became a successful
    student despite her struggles with reading. Upon entering high school
    in BUSD, the district refused to provide her with any reading
    intervention services or accommodations that she is entitled to as
    student with a disability, including extra time on tests and assistive
    technology. BUSD failed to conduct any evaluations before one district
    representative unilaterally found her ineligible for such services.
    When pressed, BUSD provided her with a 504 plan in the middle of 10th
    grade. It contained minimal accommodations that are insufficient to
    remediate her reading disorder. Throughout high school, while her
    parents continued to privately pay for services and supports, she
    struggled to access the curriculum and participate due to the
    district’s repeated failures.

“This case is critically important because learning to read is a
cornerstone of education and is the foundation of lifelong learning,”
said Shane
, Partner, Goodwin. “Students with reading disorders have every
ability to stay on track with their peers, provided they have the right
accommodations and tools to do so. But without them, as is the case for
so many in BUSD, students with reading disorders face immense challenges
and lose precious opportunities to succeed and keep up with their

The suit contends that BUSD is failing to comply with federal and state
laws, and implement regulations (the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II
of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and California Education Code
Sections 56000 et seq.).

of Jacobson Education Law, Inc. said, “What’s happening in
BUSD matters because, in California alone, it’s estimated that more than
1 million students in K-12 public schools display signs of dyslexia.
This is potentially an entire population of children who will struggle
needlessly and possibly enter society functionally illiterate, no matter
how intelligent, driven and capable they are. I’ve seen too many
families in the BUSD have to resort to extreme measures including
homeschooling just so their children with reading disorders are spared
the shame and emotional trauma of not learning to read alongside their

The case number is 3:17-cv-02510.

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Founded in
1979 by people with disabilities and parents of children with
disabilities, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) is
a national law and policy center based in Berkeley, CA and is dedicated
to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with

Jacobson Education Law, Inc.
Jacobson Education Law, Inc. is
based in Berkeley, CA and focuses exclusively on high quality
representation of students with disabilities in special education

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Larisa Cummings, 510-644-2555 ext. 5241
Staff Attorney
Education Law
Deborah Jacobson, 510-647-8125 ext. 2
Maraj, 212-459-7212