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City Hall rally calls on Assembly to pass dyslexia screening bill

San Francisco and California leaders rallied at City Hall Tuesday to support a state bill aimed at identifying students at risk of dyslexia at an early age.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language.”

The bill would require the State Board of Education to establish “evidence-based” dyslexia screening tools and a universal screening program for all students in kindergarten through second grade. If passed as is, the screening will begin in the 2022–2023 school year.

Officials were joined by parents, students from North Bridge Academy and Charles Armstrong — both schools who serve dyslexic students — in support of Senate Bill 237. The bill’s author, Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who is dyslexic, said the state needs to do a better job identifying at-risk students at an earlier age, adding:

“We’ve got to see that these promising people who are struggling to read at all levels, get identified and get the help.”

Portantino said his mother did not find out that he was dyslexic until the eighth grade. He said:

“We know that early intervention makes a difference. It’s easier to help a first grader than an eighth grader.”

Portantino said the bill, which was introduced in Jan. 2021, remains stuck in the State Assembly and has not yet had a hearing.

CORRECTION An earlier headline for this story incorrectly described the rally as targeting the California Senate for passage of SB 237. The bill passed the Senate in June 2021.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, a bill supporter and father of a dyslexic son, said that the issue is about social justice, noting that families may not have available resources to identify dyslexia, adding:

“Many children that don’t have the means end up being discarded, pushed away from school. They hear the phrase ‘Just wait. They’ll catch up. If only they try harder. Just try harder.’ Right?”

Warriors player Gary Payton II joined the City Hall rally to share his own experience.

He said his mom identified his dyslexia around the age of 10 or 11 — he stressed that students should feel comfortable learning in whatever way works best for them.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Golden State Warriors player Gary Payton II high-fives students with dyslexia during a rally to support universal screening at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on March 29, 2022. (Jerold Chinn/SFBay)

He added:

“I didn’t learn that at a young age to ask for help. I was kind of shy and embarrassed of it. There’s nothing to be embarrassed of. Everyone learns in different ways.”

City Librarian Michael Lambert said at the rally that The City was one of the first urban libraries to hire a full-time learning differences Librarian at the Main Library, which helps provide service to adults with dyslexia. Additionally, the library offers the FOG Readers program to first- through fourth-grade students who are struggling to read and write.

Lambert said the library is looking to expand the programs, adding:

“We’re going to be partnering with Supervisor Safai’s Office to boost our team of learning differences librarians and scale our FOG Readers program into the neighborhood libraries.”

SB 237 is supported by several groups, including Decoding Dyslexia CA, California State Parent Teacher Association and both San Francisco and Oakland NAACP chapters.

The California Teachers Association opposes the bill, as they did with a similar legislative effort in 2015 when they argued screening would over-identify English learners and stigmatize children.

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