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Standing up for children with dyslexia

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Lawmakers find inspiration for legislation in several ways. In many cases, we learn of an issue and work to find a solution after constituents reach out in need of support. An issue I am passionate about is supporting Hoosiers with dyslexia. My dedication for students and others with dyslexia started because of a community member, Cheryl, and her son, Josh.

A few years ago, I was at the county fair when Cheryl approached me and asked if I was familiar with dyslexia. She explained that while Josh may look like his classmates, he doesn’t learn the same way because he has dyslexia and faced challenges at school due to this learning disability.

Because Cheryl reached out to me about an issue she saw in our community and state, I was able to help.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that can affect an individual’s ability to read, write, spell and pronounce words. It can occur in people of all backgrounds and is unrelated to intelligence. Dyslexia does not hinder a student’s ability to think or be creative. In the U.S., 1 in 5 people are dyslexic to some degree, and after speaking with Cheryl and her son, I now know I also have dyslexia.

The conversation I had with Cheryl became the backbone for a law I authored in 2015 defining dyslexia and ensuring aspiring teachers to know the signs of it so they can support these students and not let them fall behind their peers.

Then, I met Erin, who shared that before she was identified with dyslexia, she had low self-esteem and thought she wasn’t smart. When Erin first came to the Statehouse to testify in a committee hearing, she was afraid to talk, but she wrote her story on a poster board for everyone to read. Even though Erin wasn’t confident in her speaking abilities, she knew it was important for lawmakers to know her experiences.

During a committee meeting in 2018, I shared Erin’s story. I did not know it at the time, but she and her mother were watching in the gallery. Later, Erin told me she was moved by how her story had a lasting impact on the General Assembly. Erin has become an advocate for Hoosiers with dyslexia. She knows she learns differently, and that’s okay.

I sponsored another law in 2018 to ensure students in kindergarten through second grade are screened for this learning disability. This year, I am working on a proposal that would provide accommodations on statewide exams like ILEARN to students with individual education plans related to reading. Identifying dyslexia and providing appropriate accommodations can go a long way in setting these students up for success.

I will continue to stand up for equitable education in the classroom for students with dyslexia who experience unique challenges when it comes to learning, but still have the same potential to be successful.

This is an issue near and dear to my heart. Visit dyslexia.com to learn more, including the signs of the learning disorder and how you can help those who have it. If you or someone you know struggles with a learning disability like dyslexia and needs help getting assistance, please contact me at 317-234-9447 or h58@iga.in.gov.

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New laws strengthen student safety

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

As summer winds down and a new school year begins, keeping young Hoosiers safe remains a top priority for everyone in our community. Several new laws strengthen student safety as they travel to and from school, and spend their days in the classroom.

If you have been outside in the early morning or midafternoon, chances are you have seen school buses on the road. We must all remember to pay attention and stop for school buses picking up or dropping off students. When a bus is stopped with its flashing red lights activated and its stop arm extended, drivers are required to stop when approaching it from any direction. If motorists are on a highway that is divided by a barrier or unpaved area, they are only required to stop if they are traveling in the same direction as the school bus.

Most drivers follow these traffic laws, but there are many who are either unaware or disregard the law completely. In fact, Hoosier bus drivers report an average of more than 2,500 stop-arm violations each day.

To keep students safe and hold motorists accountable when they fail to stop for a bus, I supported a new law increasing the penalty for injuring or killing someone as a result of recklessly passing a school bus. This could result in larger fines and longer jail sentences, and a violator’s driver’s license can be suspended for up to a year.

Once students arrive at school, they and others should continue to be safe. With new laws I supported, local schools have more flexibility to qualify for school safety matching grants, which can be used toward adding mental health resources, hiring school resource officers or improving physical security. Before providing mental health services, schools must meet with a student’s parents or guardians to discuss any concerns and obtain their consent.

Schools can also use grant money to implement app-based emergency response systems that alert all on-duty and off-duty police officers in the area when activated. This enables law enforcement to act quickly in the rare event of an emergency.

To improve communication between local law enforcement and schools, officials can now share information related to school safety so they can work together to better protect students. Without this new law, information concerning a student’s potentially alarming behavior, school files or criminal records could not be shared between schools and police, even if it pertained to public safety threats. These efforts will help protect young Hoosiers, educators and school visitors. 

Indiana continues to be a leader when it comes to keeping our schools safe, and these additional measures will better protect our schools. By working together, we can ensure young Hoosiers have a secure school environment. I wish all the students and educators back at school a fun and safe year of learning!

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State Rep. Woody Burton (R-Whiteland) represents House District 58,

which includes a portion of Johnson County.

Click here to download a high-resolution photo.

Keeping our schools safe

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

In the coming weeks, many students and educators will be heading back to the classroom for a new school year. While this is an exciting time, some may have questions about the steps being taken to ensure the safety of our children and those who dedicate their lives to educating our future leaders. School safety continues to be a top priority for state lawmakers as we build on our policies and offer a variety of resources to better ensure our children learn and grow in a safe environment.

Indiana has several safeguards in place to ensure students and educators are better protected at school. Our state has been highlighted as a national leader for implementing and investing in school safety policies by the Security Industry Association. We are among only five states with a “red flag” law, which allows firearms to be taken from individuals a court determines to be dangerous to themselves or others.

One of the most critical components to being prepared for an emergency is training. We are one of only a few states in the country to operate a School Safety Specialist Academy, which has trained and certified nearly 2,500 specialists at no cost to local schools. Indiana is 1 of 2 states to require every school district to employ a certified specialist who is trained annually on best safety practices. Additionally, each school must have a school safety plan and an assigned full- or part-time school resource officer in the district. These law enforcement officers have completed specialized training to protect the school community and have full police powers. The state also offers assistance and training for educators and staff on safety drills and building security protocols. And, while perhaps not widely known, local school boards do have the option to authorize specific teachers or administrators who are legally allowed to possess a firearm to carry while on school property.

This year we also worked with the governor, the Indiana State Police and the Indiana Department of Education to find ways to further improve our school safety policies.

In addition to the nearly $45 million Indiana has already invested toward the Secured School Safety Grant Program, we supported a new law providing an additional $5 million to help schools across the state employ school resource officers, conduct threat assessments and purchase security equipment.

Each school corporation will also update their safety plans filed with the DOE. Along with onsite district safety reviews, every school’s safety plan will be audited by the DOE with the voluntary assistance of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, state police and local law enforcement. This collaborative exercise will provide constructive feedback to further secure our schools. Furthermore, the Secured School Safety Board will be conducting a statewide review and will issue recommendations before next year’s legislative session.

In the past, some active shooters have pulled a school’s fire alarm in order to fill the hallways with students. To help prevent copycat attacks, the new law also gives schools updated evacuation guidelines in the event of an unexpected fire alarm. If an unplanned alarm goes off, school staff would have the option to block or barricade a door for up to three minutes while a designated official investigates the alarm. Without this flexibility, quick-thinking faculty and staff could be violating state fire safety laws.

More recently, it was announced every school in Indiana can receive hand-held metal detector devices at no cost. Schools that request these devices will begin receiving detectors by mid-August, with requests continuing to be filled through the fall. This new program is just one of many safety resources available to schools.

Moving forward, it is clear we need to continue providing resources and training to keep students and educators safe while they are at school. This will remain a top priority as we continue to collaborate with local and state leaders to ensure steps are taken to protect Hoosier students. If you have any questions or input about laws in place to keep students and educators safe, please contact our offices at 317-232-9600.

 

State Rep. Woody Burton (R-Whiteland) represents House District 58,

which includes a portion of Johnson County.

 State Rep. Dave Frizzell (R-Indianapolis) represents House District 93,

which includes a portion of Marion and Johnson counties.

 State Rep. Chris May (R-Bedford) represents House District 65,

which includes Brown County and portions of Lawrence, Jackson, Johnson and Monroe counties.

State Rep. John Young (R-Franklin) represents House District 47,

which includes portions of Johnson and Morgan counties.

Rounding the final corner of session

Monday, March 5th, 2018

We are nearing the final weeks of the 2018 legislative session. Several bills have already been approved by both the House of Representatives and Senate and are on their way to be signed into law, while other bills are still being debated and finalized. This is an exciting time because these potential new laws will positively impact the lives of Hoosiers throughout the entire state.

I am excited to see legislation I sponsored aiding students with dyslexia is almost through the entire legislative process. I have been working closely with students, parents and educators for several years on how to ensure students with dyslexia have the tools they need to be successful in the classroom. In 2015, I authored a law that started the conversation on what dyslexia is and why it is so critical to identify signs early. Dyslexia affects the way a person reads, writes, spells and pronounces words. At that bill signing, I met a little girl named Erin. She told me how she used to cry every night before she went to bed because she thought she wasn’t as smart as her classmates. Erin was eventually diagnosed as dyslexic, like me, and just learns differently. Children like Erin attend our community’s schools, and it’s important we equip educators with the tools needed to spot signs of dyslexia early and ensure these students receive a well-rounded education tailored to their unique learning needs.

Another bill I am honored to sponsor, known as “Savannah’s Law,” is named after Savannah Bettis, who tragically passed away in a 2015 car crash. The one-vehicle accident was the result of carbon monoxide gas building up in the cabin due to a faulty exhaust system. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas that can be fatal if inhaled in high concentrations continuously. Both Savannah and her boyfriend, who survived the crash, fell unconscious from the carbon monoxide which resulted in the accident. They really had no warning.

Savannah’s Law would give Hoosiers the opportunity to receive free carbon monoxide emissions tests for their vehicle at their local fire department. This test would take about 10 minutes and could save the lives of Hoosiers and their families. I used to work as a mechanic, so I can typically spot when cars are not working properly. Recently, my wife and I experienced headaches while driving. After getting the car checked out, we discovered our catalytic converter had come loose and was leaking carbon monoxide into our car. Everyone should be aware of this real danger. This legislation can be now be signed by the governor and could soon become law.

Last fall, I met with several families to discuss how we can improve Indiana’s adoption process and foster care program. After hearing stories from children and parents, it is clear that something must be done to ensure kids in the foster care system have a safe and loving place to call home. I have been working on legislation that would increase transparency and accountability throughout the entire adoption process. Under my proposal, prospective adoptive parents would receive a report with contact information of agency employees, giving them a place to voice concerns, ask questions and receive feedback. This gives Hoosiers looking to adopt a child a clear path to address concerns, if need be. This bill has been supported unanimously throughout the legislative session, and it is now awaiting the governor’s signature before it becomes law.

As we round the corner toward the end of session, lawmakers will be finalizing their bills. To keep track of legislation during this time, visit iga.in.gov. If you have any questions about my legislation or if there is anything I can do to help you or your family, contact me at h58@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9648.

Tools to help students with dyslexia

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Ideas for legislation come from a variety of sources. Sometimes, a lawmaker learns of an issue and works to find a solution, while other times communities reach out needing help from the General Assembly to provide support to accomplish different goals. Many of the best and most impactful laws are the ones inspired by Hoosiers.

Several years ago, I was approached at the county fair by Cheryl from our community, asking if I was familiar with dyslexia. Not knowing much about the learning disability at the time, I said no. Cheryl introduced me to her son, Josh, who has dyslexia and faced difficulties with schoolwork because he learns differently. After that conversation, I was motivated to find a way to ensure kids like Josh are able to receive a well-rounded education like other students.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that can affect an individual’s ability to read, write, spell and pronounce words. It can occur in people of all backgrounds and is unrelated to intelligence. Dyslexia does not hinder a student’s ability to think or be creative. In the U.S., 1 in 5 people are dyslexic to some degree, and after speaking with Cheryl and her son, I now know I am also dyslexic.

In 2015, I authored a law providing resources for teachers to better identify students with dyslexia. Under this law, teachers have a clear definition of dyslexia and receive training on how to identify early signs of this learning disability in their students.

When then-Gov. Mike Pence signed this legislation into law, more than 100 students, parents and educators came to the Statehouse to show support. I was amazed at the number of children who shared with me they thought they were stupid, when in reality, they just learn differently. That legislation was a small step in helping students find success in school.

To build on that law, I am sponsoring legislation that would require schools and the Department of Education to take extra steps to further ensure every student who has dyslexia is identified and receives the needed additional help and resources to better address their educational needs. Under this proposal, students in kindergarten through second grade would be screened for signs of dyslexia. Additionally, an educator who specializes in dyslexia would be available to each school corporation in the state to address unique cases. Early detection of dyslexia is vital to getting students on a successful learning path.

Dyslexia is an issue I am particularly passionate about, and I will continue to raise awareness for this learning disability and stress the importance of recognizing it in Hoosier students. To follow the progress of this bill and other important legislation, visit iga.in.gov. As always, if there is anything I can do for you or your family, please contact me at h58@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9648.