A new charter school for kids with dyslexia opened this fall in South Carolina. The school, the Lakes and Bridges Charter School, is free to attend, just like any other public school. (All charter schools are public.) Its opening highlights a small but growing number of charter schools focused on dyslexia.
Nationally, there are already many private schools that specialize in serving kids with language-based learning disabilities.
“There are also many public charter schools that specialize in other issues. For instance, autism or behavior disorders,” says Lauren Morando Rhim, PhD, of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS). In its 2018 report, NCSECS compiled a list of dozens of these schools. (View a PDF of the report.)
But charter schools serving kids with dyslexia are “newer” and “rarer,” says Rhim.
One of the first was the Louisiana Key Academy. It was founded in 2013 by Laura Cassidy, MD, wife of Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA). The Einstein School (Louisiana) and Provident Charter School (Pennsylvania) followed. And next year, Bridges Preparatory Charter School will open in New York, focused on serving kids with dyslexia and literacy issues.
“Parents are very interested in public charter schools designed to meet the needs of students with dyslexia,” says Timothy Castanza, the founder and executive director of Bridges Preparatory. “We are getting tons of calls from families.”
But why a charter school?
“Traditional public schools aren’t meeting the needs of so many students. And not every family can afford private school, so it’s an issue of equity and access,” he notes. “As a charter school we have a bit more flexibility in terms of programming, budget and structural decisions. This helps us set up our students and staff for ongoing academic success.”
Rhim says the “choice” offered by charter schools is great. But parents need to do their research.
“Some specialized charter schools have run into criticism for not serving kids well,” she warns. “Just because a charter school has the word dyslexia in its mission doesn’t mean it’s a great school.”
“It’s important to ask questions about the school’s teaching methods. Make sure the school has high expectations for your child. And look at how the school’s students are performing.”
Another issue to consider is inclusion, says Meghan Casey Whittaker of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “Research shows that kids with learning differences benefit from learning with their general education peers,” she says. “Dyslexia-specific schools don’t offer that. On the other hand, these schools can provide specific interventions and programs some parents are looking for.”
Compare the differences between public, private and charter schools. Get an expert take on if a charter school is the right choice. And learn about your child’s special education rights in a charter school.
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Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.