Note: This article was originally published in the Winter 1994 issue of Perspectives, the Journal of the Orton Dyslexia Society, now known as the International Dyslexia Association. It is written by Peter W. D. Wright, Attorney at Law, Deltaville, VA of Wrightslaw and reprinted with permission. For more about Peter, see our previous blog post featuring his educational experiences as a child with dyslexia and ADHA in the 1950's education system and stay tuned for his forthcoming interview on our site. The case of Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter was set in motion by four distinguished members of The Orton Dyslexia Association - Helene Dubrow, Diana Hanbury King, Roger Saunders, and Linda Summer. In 1953, Orton member, Diana Hanbury King tutored a severely dysgraphic, dyslexic and hyperkinetic youngster. During the next summer, that eight year old boy attended Helene Dubrow’s camp at the base of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont where he continued to receive intensive Orton-Gillingham remediation from his tutor and counselor, Roger Saunders, another Orton member.
Remediation with Diana King continued through the next academic year. Later, Diana King founded the famous Orton-Gillingham based Kildonan School, which is located in Amenia, New York. Dr. Roger Saunders founded the Jemicy School in Maryland and became one of the most prominent psychologists in the field of dyslexia.
Thirty years later, in 1985, another Orton member, Linda Summer began working with Shannon Carter, a severely depressed fifteen year old. Shannon had been misdiagnosed by the school system as a "slow learner," who was "lazy and unmotivated." Despite an average to above average IQ, Shannon was functionally illiterate. Linda Summer discovered and diagnosed Shannon’s dyslexia. She insisted that Shannon needed a self-contained classroom to remediate her disabilities. The public school refused to provide this and proposed to give Shannon three hours a week of special education. Her parents refused this. As members of the Orton Dyslexia Society, Mr. and Mrs. Carter attended state and regional conferences. When the school refused to educate Shannon, the parents placed her into Trident Academy, another Orton-Gillingham based program. The parents sought reimbursement for the cost of the tuition at Trident Academy and took their case to court. Eventually, Pete Wright, a Richmond, Virginia attorney and former pupil of Diana Hanbury King and Roger Saunders, represented Shannon.
Pete Wright argued Shannon’s case before The U. S. Supreme Court on October 6, 1993. Three generations of Orton Dyslexia Society (now known as the International Dyslexia Association) members were present during oral argument. While Pete argued Shannon’s case, Roger Saunders and Shannon Carter watched from the audience. On November 9, 1993, thirty-four days later, the Court issued a unanimous decision on behalf of Shannon Carter and affirmed the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Emory and Elaine Carter sought a more intensive program – and the school refused to provide this, in part because no such program was available in School District Four. After losing both a due process and review hearing, Shannon’s parents took their case to the U. S. District Court where they prevailed. On appeal to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the school system changed tactics. They argued that Trident Academy was not a certified approved school. Dr. Lucia Karnes, a member of the Orton Dyslexia Society, helped to set up Trident Academy. The public school argued that because Trident was not an "approved" school, the parents should not be reimbursed, even though the private school provided Shannon with an appropriate education. The Fourth Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision. In making their argument, Florence County School District Four followed the rationale and the rule of law that existed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
In that Circuit, a trial judge found that The Kildonan School provided a youngster with an excellent education and that there was not an appropriate education available either within the public school or on the state’s list of approved schools. Because of the prior Second Circuit precedent, the trial judge expressed concerns that he could not rule in favor of the child. The judge said that although the parents obtained an appropriate education for their son, it was not free.
In Carter, the Fourth Circuit took a different position. If the school system defaults on its legal duty to provide the child with an appropriate education and if the parents obtain an appropriate special education for their child, then the child’s education should be free -- regardless of whether the school was on an "approved list." (South Carolina did not have any pre-existing list.) Because of the "split" between the Second Circuit and Fourth Circuit, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the Carter case. School officials hoped that a favorable decision in Carter would reduce the costs of special education.
The U. S. Supreme Court did not agree. They gave short shrift to the "financial catastrophe" arguments raised by the seventeen states and dozens of educational organizations that filed briefs against Shannon. Legal scholars were surprised at the speed with which the Court reached its decision. Carter was considered a stunning victory for parents of handicapped children. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that Trident Academy provided Shannon with an excellent education and that the public school program was "woefully inadequate." Children with handicaps are entitled to a continuum of educational alternatives, including self-contained and residential programs. Schools that provide fixed rigid programs directed by staffing convenience are ill-advised to draw lines in the sand, provide inadequate programs, then suggest that parents "take it or leave it." Parents may reject the school’s proposal, secure an education privately, then present the school with a bill and collect in the end.
This was the outcome in Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter, a case set in motion by the involvement of four distinguished members of The Orton Dyslexia Society - Helene Dubrow, Diana Hanbury King, Roger Saunders, and Linda Summer. Children with all types handicaps, disabilities, and learning differences benefit from the work of The Orton Dyslexia Society, now called the International Dyslexia Association.
(Note: Click here to see a YouTube video portion of Pete's Keynote at "Decoding Dyslexia Day - Richmond, VA and stay tuned for our next post--an interview with Peter Wright himself.)