Cracking the Code: Are Hawaii Schools Doing Enough for Dyslexic Students?

Flickr: Tiberiu Ana

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at whether Hawaii's public schools are doing enough to help students with dyslexia and other struggling readers. Read part two as we explore what happens when families of dyslexic children can't afford to send their kids to specialized private schools.

When Rhea Nekota graduated from high school, she read at the sixth-grade level. She had spent nearly all of her 13 years in Hawaii public schools bouncing between pull-out special education sessions, specialized tutoring, study hall and regular classes — never quite getting the support she needed for her learning disability.

Nekota has dyslexia, which experts say is likely the most common of all learning disabilities. Still, the Hawaii Department of Education, Nekota’s teachers and even her federally mandated Individualized Education Program (IEP) team repeatedly failed to accommodate her. She was isolated and ignored, too advanced for intensive special education yet in desperate need of instruction catered to her learning style.

“I started to feel that no one in the school system really wanted to help me,” she would later write in a personal essay. “My teachers would agree with my mother and say that I needed help, but no one was willing to do anything. I was just passed from one teacher to another. Quarters rolled into semesters, and semesters into years. Years of wasted time, filled with people who didn’t know or care what to do with me.”

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