MY TURN: Open letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra
| November 30, 2021 5:05 PM
Dear Mrs. Ybarra,
I feel I have no choice but to write to you. Maybe, this time, you will read a letter? It has become incredibly clear over the past four years you have no interest in meeting with me or anyone from the team in Idaho that supports children with dyslexia. Maybe you will take a few minutes to read this.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Robin Zikmund and I am the Founder of the Decoding Dyslexia Idaho chapter, more importantly I am Carter’s mom. My son Carter is 13 years old, in seventh grade, severely dyslexic and still reading at a first-grade level. I needed your support many years ago. Idaho teachers have needed your support for even longer. One in five children in your Idaho schools struggle with dyslexia.
I established the Decoding Dyslexia Idaho chapter in September 2018. The movement was started in 2011 in New Jersey. Every state has a chapter, Idaho was the last to join. The purpose in starting the Idaho chapter was to bring awareness to these children, collaboration with your department in providing early screening, teacher training, resources for this 20% of your student population. You refused to meet with us. Your staff at our State Department of Education assured me they had everything in place to support these children. There was no need for concern, no need to pass dyslexia legislation, no need for a state dyslexia handbook, as every state before us had already done. In fact, in 2018 our Idaho State Department of Education still preferred we didn’t use the term, dyslexia. Regardless of the 2015 U.S. Department of Education letter advising every state to do so. Idaho felt it wasn’t necessary. Why would we need to label these children? This is how far behind Idaho education is in supporting one in five children in our schools.
In the past four years, I have met hundreds of parents across the state with children, just like my son. Children who continue to be missed, misunderstood, unsupported and remain illiterate in our Idaho public schools. I have met hundreds of amazing Idaho teachers who have come to Decoding Dyslexia for training with tears in their eyes starving for support to better serve this population of students. Our group has grown from two moms and one special education teacher to hundreds of parents, even more children and a team of incredibly passionate and knowledgeable dyslexic and literacy specialist who support this effort and continued to push at state level.
Thankfully, we gained the interest of our governor and his staff who did make the time to meet with us. The meeting I had expected to have with you in 2018 was finally happening in 2021, but not with you. In fact, you and your entire staff at our State Department of Education have been no part of any of our meetings. No part in our discussions around updating existing Idaho Literacy Code, no part in reviewing countless other states successful dyslexia legislation and well written state handbooks. No one from our State Department of Education has taken steps to create change and support for these students. In fact, just a few weeks ago in a meeting you were part of, members of your team still held the position that a state dyslexia handbook was not necessary. So, you can imagine my shock when I read the recent article in the Coeur d’Alene Press where you were quoted suggesting the fix for dyslexia is “maybe just having a dyslexia handbook.”
Children speak volumes. I am forever grateful that your student advisory committee was successful in opening your eyes to what I have tried in every way possible to bring to your attention over these past four years. I’m glad you found “it very fascinating” to see what it is like for our dyslexic children in your school’s day-after-day. I’m glad you're finally taking notice. Your State Department of Education does not have everything in place for these children, that there is real reason for concern, reasons to pass dyslexia legislation and there is a need for a state dyslexia handbook. I’m grateful you have finally acknowledged that Idaho is the only state in the nation to have absolutely nothing in place to support this 20% of students. However, your leadership has been no part of the work that is already underway. Your leadership never even opened the door for a conversation. When the governor made literacy a focus in Idaho education. You and your team continued to turn your head and fail 20% of Idaho children.
Through the efforts of hundreds of Idaho families with the support of Decoding Dyslexia Idaho, we are moving forward in the right direction without any support from our Idaho State Department of Education. I cannot imagine how you can attempt to take any credit for the efforts that are now being made at state level. Your comment in the Coeur d’Alene Press article where you state “support could look like training, funding, or maybe just having a dyslexia handbook” is incredibly bold and inappropriate of you. Our group is well underway in this effort without the support of you or anyone at the State Department of Education. You and I both know that Sherri and it’s a shame you would use our children and families in an effort to gain votes as we near another election. We are all painfully aware of the failures under your leadership and your attempt to take any credit for our efforts and to acknowledge dyslexia now is incredibly dishonest. Not surprising, but dishonest non the less.
I sincerely hope as you finish out your term as our State Superintendent of Public Instruction you allow us to finish our work at state level without any unnecessary challenges from you or your department.
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Robin Zikmund is a Meridian resident.