By Joshua Winata

Killeen Daily Herald

Truman Kilpatrick, 10, is in the fourth grade at Williams-Ledger Elementary School in the Copperas Cove Independent School District, but he reads at a kindergarten level.

That's because Truman suffers from dyslexia, a neurological learning disorder that impairs word recognition and decoding abilities.

According to dyslexia research, the disorder is best treated when identified early, but Truman's parents, Jeffrey and Pam Owen, say CCISD is failing to provide the attention and education their son requires.

The Owens have written letters to state and U.S. congressmen seeking stricter requirements and increased accountability for dyslexia programs in public schools, and Pam Owen said she hopes to eventually file a lawsuit at both the state and federal level.

Currently, however, the family is working with a parent advocate from educational civil rights attorney Martin Cirkiel's law firm, which is still researching the case while at the complaint stage.

"What it boils down to is they're not doing the right thing," Pam Owen said. "They're not doing what they're supposed to be doing."

For four years, the Owens have suspected their son might be dyslexic and pushed for testing, a request denied by the school's review committee. Truman finally went through a battery of tests this year and has seen two doctors, both of whom have confirmed he does suffer from the disorder.

According to CCISD, testing is done only in extreme cases based on recommendation from the teacher and intervention strategies proposed by a committee of educators. The high point for dyslexia identification is between second and fourth grade, which enables the district to rule out the possibility of simply a slower cognitive maturing process, said Dr. George Willey, CCISD director of student services.

The Owens hired Cirkiel to investigate and negotiate with the school district. In a mediation session on May 27, Pam Owen said CCISD offered to pay a year's tuition for a school in Temple specializing in dyslexia and for the tests.

"I told them to take their mediation and stick it," Pam Owen said. "They wanted to make up for one year, to give us some money to go off to another school ... but they owe him four years of education, not just one."

CCISD officials have declined to comment on the specifics of Truman's situation in accordance with the district's privacy policy. However, the district maintained that it "exceeds state requirements" in dyslexia programs, Willey said.

The Texas Education Agency requires that schools develop or purchase a reading program for dyslexic students and have certified teachers who also are trained in multi-sensory approaches at every campus. The district specifies which professional development programs teachers must attend.

The Owens are concerned that CCISD's program is inadequate."What good does the program do if you don't have someone qualified to teach it?" Jeffrey Owen said.

Willey said training usually is presented in the form of short workshops, but added it is a continuous process throughout the year. CCISD will switch to a more comprehensive reading program this year provided by Wilson Reading Corp. and will train teachers to work with online modules in the fall. They also will provide assessment once each six weeks to observe interactions with the students.

"It's an ongoing effort because new information comes about as to what's best for dyslexic students," Willey said.

Jeffrey Owen said that despite the district's compliance with the state standards, it still doesn't help his son, who has been left behind due to the district's delayed response in diagnosing and finding the right programs.

"(CCISD), in my eyes, has not helped him at all in four years, so therefore, as far as I'm concerned, you've been denying him an education," he said. "He's learned nothing."

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