Virginia Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell determined the program Lindamood Bell is not appropriate for a student who has Dyslexia, after Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) "experts" made curious statements about the instruction and Lindamood Bell's site and staff.
Jugnu Agrawal, program manager of FCPS's special education curriculum, and one of the FCPS "experts" who testified in front of HO Mitchell, said Lindamood Bell isn't appropriate because, "if you go and look at the pictures on their website and everything, it is specifically for elementary."
Yes. Agrawal, who also testified that she'd never been trained to administer Lindamood Bell, that she'd never read a Lindamood Bell training manual, and that she'd never read the student's entire record (which included testing showing Student made incredible gains after receiving Lindamood Bell instruction), made a determination of appropriateness based on pictures of children on Lindamood Bell's site. In addition, when asked what she knew of the delivery of the program, she characterized it in the following manner:
So I know that Lindamood-Bell hires these seasonal clinicians, is what they call them. And they train them to provide one-on-one instruction to the students in—under the guidance of their printers or whatever. So the services—their direct services to the students are provided by these seasonal clinicians who don't necessarily have to be aspiring to be teachers or who are not special ed trained special education teachers.
At another point in the hearing, FCPS's now-retired Dyslexia "expert" Dottie Skrincosky stated Lindamood Bell doesn't have "sticking power", as in after students are administered the program, they lose what they've learned.
The due process hearing during which this occurred took place in October 2020, but remains relevant today because it is an example of current problems with 1) FCPS's leadership and curriculum "experts" and 2) FCPS's history of misleading investigating parties (see "FCPS Knows Its IEPs Are Noncompliant, Leads Hearing Officer, Virginia Dept. of Ed., Staff, and Parents to Believe Otherwise" and "Fairfax County Public Schools Provided False Information to Office for Civil Rights")
What is Lindamood Bell?
Lindamood Bell is an evidence-based, multi-sensory program focused on developing skills necessary for reading and comprehension. In addition, it has a math component. Students who have been administered the program since 1986, when it was launched by Patricia Lindamood and Nanci Bell, include students who were previously diagnosed with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, ADHD, and/or Autism.
Does Lindamood Bell Have "Sticking Power" & Is It Just For Elementary Students?
In separate studies done by world-renowned researchers from Wake Forest University and Georgetown University, which were supported by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Institutes of Health, Lindamood Bell instruction was found to have changed the grey matter volume (GMV) of children administered the instruction and to positively impact both children and adults who were administered the instruction.
In 2011, researchers Guinevere F. Eden, D. Lynn Flowers, Anthony J. Krafnick, and Eileen M. Napoliello published the findings of their research into whether children with Dyslexia, who receive a reading intervention over an eight-week period, show changes in GMV. The subjects of the study included 11 students (8 male, 3 female), whose ages ranged from between 7 yrs 5 months to11 yrs 11 months, and who were administered the Lindamood Bell program "Seeing Stars" at their school by employees of Lindamood Bell.
Although FCPS's "expert" Jugnu Agrawal disparaged Lindamood Bell employees and Dottie Skrincosky said Lindamood Bell doesn't "stick", the findings support that Lindamood Bell instruction changes GMV:
This study showed gains in reading skills and increased GMV in dyslexic children after an eight week reading intervention. GMV increases were observed in the left hemisphere in anterior fusiform/hippocampus and precuneus. The left anterior fusiform region is commonly engaged in tasks involving object processing and object naming and may suggest that the dyslexic students are relying on this region to help improve their processing of words. The left precuneus has been implicated in visual imagery and specifically in tasks involving imagery of individual letters. Right hemisphere GMV changes following the intervention were found in the cerebellum and hippocampus. There is a theoretical framework implicating the cerebellum in dyslexia and this study adds a novel contribution to this theory. Finally, the GMV increases in the left hippocampus (extending from the cluster reported for the anterior fusiform gyrus) and right hippocampus may reflect more general learning that is occurring during the intervention. The increases in GMV were restricted to the intervention period and were not observed after the intervention ended, suggesting that these increases in GMV are related to the intervention. This is the first longitudinal VBM analysis in children and demonstrates that changes in brain structure are brought about by intervention. These findings provide encouragement that learning can result in both lasting behavioral and structural changes in children who struggle in learning to read. Further investigation will improve understanding not only for how the brain responds to learning, but in how these findings may be translated into refining interventions and improve the learning experience.
In 2016, two of the 2011 study's researchers (Guinevere F. Eden, D. Lynn Flowers) joined Karen M. Jones, Katherine Cappell, Lynn Gareau, Frank B. Wood, Thomas A. Zeffirino, Nicole A.E. Dietz, and John A. Agnew, in publishing the findings of their research into the effects of Lindamood Bell instruction on "the brain activity and reading ability of dyslexic students."
Although FCPS's expert Jugnu Agrawal maintained that Lindamood Bell is for children, the subjects selected by the researchers were adults (19 dyslexic: 14 males, 5 females)—and these adults were positively impacted by Lindamood Bell instruction:
Compared to the nonintervention group, the dyslexic intervention group improved on measures of phonological processing and word reading. They also displayed significant enhancement in the use of left hemisphere parietal cortex and numerous right hemisphere regions. We conclude that this compensation resulted from a failure to fully utilize the processing capacities of those left parietal regions typically involved in phonological processing. Together, these findings suggest that adults with persistent characteristics of dyslexia are capable not only of responding positively to intensive intervention, but demonstrate changes in functional neuroanatomy attributable to training. The physiological mechanisms of adult phonologically based intervention are interpreted as a combination of two processes previously reported independently in studies of developmental or acquired reading disorders: (1) an increase in areas seen in typical readers, as has been demonstrated in remediation studies of children with developmental dyslexia, and (2) compensation in areas not usually associated with the task, a mechanism that has been found in rehabilitation of acquired reading disorders following stroke. These findings provide important information for understanding adults with developmental dyslexia and for developing more specialized, effective interventions for this population.
FCPS's Leadership and Curriculum "Experts"
Between 2020 and now, FCPS has made nationwide headlines for its COVID responses, for Office of Civil Rights (OCR) finding FCPS at fault for systemic noncompliance related to COVID, and for now being a part of the U.S. Department of Education's continued monitoring of Virginia Department of Education's noncompliance. OCR determined that between April 2020 and June 2022, which includes the time period during which this due process occurred, FCPS trained educators countywide to deny FAPE, including denying and/or watering down services and special education curriculum. In its letter of findings, OCR specifically stated [emphasis added]:
During the 2020-2021 school year, the Division continued to direct its IEP teams to categorically reduce and place limits on the services, special education instruction, and educational curriculum that students with IEPs could receive while learning remotely. . . . On the one hand, the Division’s guidance to staff apparently capped the services that could be provided in a virtual IEP. . . . On the other hand, the Division’s documents also indicated a virtual IEP could water down what students were expected to master during remote learning—answering only ‘who’ or ‘where’ questions, for example, in response to a text read aloud, but dropping ‘what’ and ‘when’. The documents reflected that a virtual IEP could also lower how much a student was expected to master of that less ambitious material—correctly answering problems involving only multi-step addition and subtraction, for instance, rather than multi-step equations, and then only 80% of the time, rather than 90%. To date, OCR has obtained no evidence suggesting that the Division had similarly downgraded its academic expectations for students without disabilities during the 2020-2021 school year, even though they, too, were learning remotely. To the contrary, in late August 2020, the Division had said publicly that it expected its students to master essentially the same material as in any other year, despite learning online.
Just as she is today, Jugnu Agrawal was program manager of FCPS's special education curriculum during the period OCR investigated and made the above determination. During the hearing, Agrawal testified that she'd been with FCPS since 2004, first as a teacher, and then in 2013 she joined central office "in multiple capacities, as a curriculum resource teacher, as an educational specialist", and that she'd started her current position about three and a half weeks prior to her testimony.
FCPS's History of Fighting Against Reimbursing Parents for Lindamood Bell
In 2007, FCPS lost a due process hearing related to Lindamood Bell after another parent filed for due process against FCPS.
The hearing officer for that due process hearing ruled that Lindamood Bell was appropriate for the then-teenaged student who had Dyslexia, agreed with the parent that Lindamood Bell did provide instruction that benefitted the student and was an appropriate placement, and that FCPS failed to provide FAPE. However, things took an odd turn from there.
The hearing officer reduced the Lindamood Bell reimbursement amount by one third "based on his finding that the Parent refused to consent to testing, withheld test results, limited his communications with FCPS, and failed to retrieve at least one important letter from FCPS." In addition, the hearing officer denied the parent's request for compensatory services and stated, "to do so would be to open a door to too many unforeseen consequences."
The case went to court on appeal based on the monetary and compensatory education decisions made by the hearing officer—not on whether Lindamood Bell was appropriate. FCPS, represented by John Cafferky (the same counsel in the 2020 due process with Jugnu Agrawal) asked the Court "to uphold the Hearing Officer's findings and conclusions." (HOGAN et al., Plaintiffs, v. FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, Defendant)
In regards to the hearing officer's monetary decision, the Court found "that the Hearing Officer correctly determined that some reduction in reimbursement is justified. However, the Court believes that the Hearing Officer focused too narrowly on the Parent's failures in what was obviously a frustrating and emotionally difficult series of decisions regarding the education of his child. The Court finds that a one-sixth reduction, rather than a one-third reduction, better reflects the Parent's contribution to the Student's non-attendance at school during the 2005-2006 school year."
In regards to the hearing officer's compensatory education decision, the Court did not agree with the hearing officer and found "that an award of eight weeks of summer-level education is an appropriate equitable compensation for the Student's loss of a FAPE."
Although John Cafferky knows Lindamood Bell has long been beneficial for students who have Dyslexia, and although he knows FCPS previously lost a case related to Lindamood Bell that resulted in monetary reimbursement to the parent and compensatory education to the student, he didn't bring up the Hogan case during the 2020 due process hearing, when his client repeatedly disparaged Lindamood Bell and/or incorrectly stated it to be for elementary school-aged students only.
Now, almost three years later, John Cafferky remains one of FCPS's out-of-house lawyers and Jugnu Agrawal remains in the same position as program manager of special education curriculum.
In addition to her curious decision-making regarding whether or not Lindamood Bell is appropriate for a student who has Dyslexia (for whom she admitted she didn't know the student's full needs and had not read the student's full record), her lack of knowledge about a proven program that has been making positive headlines for years in an arena in which she's supposed to be an expert, her failure to remember details related to her expertise, and her refusal on at least one occasion to answer a question, she made a number of curious statements about Lindamood Bell and Dyslexia, and about FCPS's work with older students in particular. The below are a few more excerpts of Agrawal's testimony. Kandise Lucas asked questions as an advocate for the parent and John Cafferky, of Blankingship & Keith, asked questions on behalf of FCPS.
Kandise Lucas: Do you have any experience regarding providing interventions or identifying dyslexia?
Jugnu Agrawal: I do.
Kandise Lucas: What experience do you have?
Jugnu Agrawal: When you say when experience do I have, what do you mean? Can you clarify?
Kandise Lucas: Do you have formal training?
Jugnu Agrawal: So for -- I have attended a lot of training and a lot of professional development related to dyslexia.
Kandise Lucas: Where is that documented on your resume?
Jugnu Agrawal: It might not be listed on my resume specifically.
Kandise Lucas: Do you have any knowledge regarding how common dyslexia is among students with disabilities?
Jugnu Agrawal: Yes. I do.
Kandise Lucas: And what is the commonality?
Jugnu Agrawal: One in five students have dyslexia.
Kandise Lucas: One in five? And that's just -- that's the most recent data as of when? Do you know?
Jugnu Agrawal: No. I don't know. I cannot tell you that.
Kandise Lucas: Do you know where you obtained that information?
Jugnu Agrawal: From a good source -- so I don't remember, I don't remember where I saw this information because I review a lot of manuscripts for different journals. I review a lot of information. I do -- I'm on the editorial board for several journals. So I cannot really pinpoint where I found that information or where I saw that information. Sorry about --
Kandise Lucas: Is dyslexia specific to low incident or high incident students?
Jugnu Agrawal: It can be across.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. What are the components of an effective intervention for dyslexia, based on your
Jugnu Agrawal: So it depends on the needs of the student. So it's very hard to say that this intervention is good for this student. It depends on the characteristics of the student. But it has to be -- the determination of which interventions will help support each student has to be based on the individual needs of the student.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. Are you aware of the individual needs of [Student] regarding dyslexia?
Jugnu Agrawal: I am not aware of his individual needs, but I have reviewed some of the reports that were there.
Kandise Lucas: Do you know how the school division screens students for dyslexia?
Jugnu Agrawal: Yes. I do.
Kandise Lucas: How do they screen the students for dyslexia?
Jugnu Agrawal: We, we do have the I-ready screener that we use.
Kandise Lucas: I-ready?
Jugnu Agrawal: Mm-hmm.
Kandise Lucas: Is that an evidence based evaluation tool for dyslexia?
Jugnu Agrawal: I cannot answer that question.
Kandise Lucas: Can you explain to Ms. Mitchell what I-ready is?
Jugnu Agrawal: I-ready is an assessment that is used for screening students with dyslexia in Fairfax.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. Is i-Ready an instructional tool?
Jugnu Agrawal: It's an assessment and an -- also an instructional tool.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. It is -- when is it administered?
John Cafferky: Objection. Once again, this is way beyond the scope of what I asked, your Honor.
Kandise Lucas: It is --
John Cafferky: Which had nothing to do with i-Ready.
Kandise Lucas: This actually goes to the evaluations. This is going -- I'm going to tie this into the WIAT and the KTEA. These are all the evaluations he brought up.
Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell: Overruled. Go ahead.
Kandise Lucas: You stated that the i-Ready is an evidence based evaluation tool to determine dyslexia?
Jugnu Agrawal: I did not state anything like that. I am unfortunately unable to speak to this. Sorry.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. So but you said that -- I just want to clarify for the record. You said that i-Ready is what is used by Fairfax County to screen for dyslexia.
Jugnu Agrawal: In the earlier grades. Yes.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. What about in middle school and high school?
Jugnu Agrawal: already said I cannot answer that question.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. You focus on curriculum development for county. Correct?
Jugnu Agrawal: Yes.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. How does Fairfax County Public Schools integrate reading skills for students with dyslexia into their reading programs?
Jugnu Agrawal: I cannot speak to that question.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. Regarding literacy standards for FCPS, is there a balance between explicit and intensive reading programs available for students?
Jugnu Agrawal: Can you please repeat your question?
Kandise Lucas: Sure. Do you know what an explicit reading intervention is?
Jugnu Agrawal: Yes. I do know the definition of what an explicit reading intervention is.
Kandise Lucas: And do you know what the definition of an intensive reading intervention is?
Jugnu Agrawal: I do. Yes.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. Does Fairfax offer evidence based programming for reading that is explicit and intensive?
Jugnu Agrawal: There are many programs that we do offer. Yes.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. Now, do you offer those programs throughout the school day?
Jugnu Agrawal: I cannot answer that question. Because again, that determination on what each student receives is based on case-by-case basis. So I cannot answer that question.
Kandise Lucas: Have you ever been part of a team in which this service was offered as an extended school year option?
John Cafferky: Objection. We're clearly going beyond the direct examination, your Honor. I know that Ms. Lucas has a lot of other cases that she's involved in and that raise other issues. This is not something that I raised in my examination --
Kandise Lucas: Actually --
John Cafferky: It's not a discovery deposition of her.
Kandise Lucas: No. No, Ms. Mitchell, actually -- on her resume, she stated that she -- and I confirmed -- she's over curriculum development. My simple question to her is that whether they offer these programming options which she is over -- okay. Curriculum development, whether they offer them through the school year, after school -- what modes do they offer them at. And this has specifically to deal with [Student], because as you know, [Student] had to give up -- was told to give up an elective in order to participate in some other things. So this is definitely relevant.
John Cafferky: But --
Kandise Lucas: This is definitely relevant. My simple question to her --
John Cafferky: I just want to be --
Kandise Lucas: My simple question to her is that --
John Cafferky: -- clear, your Honor --
Kandise Lucas: My simple question to her --
Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell: I can't hear everybody talking, and I don't like it. So please wait for each other.
John Cafferky: Fair enough.
Kandise Lucas: My simple question to this expert witness in special education is that our explicit and intensive reading interventions offered as part of extended school year. That's my simple question.
John Cafferky: And your Honor, my response to that is, it's not only got to be something that's relevant in the larger context this case with seven days' worth of evidence. It's got to be something I asked this witness about. There are a lot of other witnesses who could have addressed this, and I think to some extent did address this. This witness did not.
Kandise Lucas: She did --
John Cafferky: She had a couple specific areas of testimony, and we're way beyond them.
Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell: Objection sustained. Move along.
Kandise Lucas: Okay.
Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell: I don't believe that was one of the things that [Parent] asked for, extended school year services.
Kandise Lucas: No. No. No. But this speaks to the fact that the school division did not educate the parent on all the options. So that's why I specifically asked her, has she ever been part of an IEP team where these intensive reading programs -- Wilson, Orton-Gillingham, Lindamood-Bell -- were offered as extended school year. And that is within the purview of his question, Ms. Mitch.
Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell: Answer the question. Objection sustained. Answer the question -- I mean overruled. Answer the question.
Jugnu Agrawal: Can you ask your question again? Sorry.
Kandise Lucas: Yes, ma'am. My question was, have you ever been part of an IEP team where intensive and explicit and reading programs were offered as a component of extended school year?
Jugnu Agrawal: So we don't write the names of the programs in the IEP. Because we don't -- the program -- the need -- it's driven by the needs of the student. So it's the school teams that decide, and it's an IEP team decision. Like, they come together and they decide. This is not written -- something that is written in an IEP.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. But has a team -- has a team that you've been part of ever stated that a child needs intensive reading instruction -- not naming the program -- during extended school year?
Jugnu Agrawal: I don't remember.
Kandise Lucas: Oh, okay. Thank you. What are the components of an evidence based reading program?
Jugnu Agrawal: What are the components -- it depends on what area of reading is it addressing.
Kandise Lucas: For [Student]. You've read his background. What would be the components -- what would be the vital or the necessary components of an evidence based reading program for [Student]?
Jugnu Agrawal: I'm sorry. I cannot answer that question.
Kandise Lucas: Now, you stated that Lindamood-Bell was not appropriate. Correct? For [Student]?
Jugnu Agrawal: Yes. Lindamood-Bell is not correct for [Student]. . . .
Kandise Lucas: Have you ever been a situation in which Orton-Gillingham and Lindamood-Bell are combined as well as Wilson to meet the needs of the child because of the deficits?
Jugnu Agrawal: I would not say so. Because you are mixing multiple different medicines ask giving to a child. That's not appropriate. I'm sorry.
Kandise Lucas: Now, you did testify that you use components of Lindamood-Bell. Correct? In your instruction?
Jugnu Agrawal: Strategies from there. Not components.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. What strategies do you utilize?
Jugnu Agrawal: Some of the strategies, like -- but the population that I used it with was very, very
Kandise Lucas: Okay. So it's not like -- they're not like [Student]?
Jugnu Agrawal: No.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. What strategies did you use from Orton-Gillingham?
Jugnu Agrawal: Using multisensory strategies, making it more hands-on for the students, explicitly teaching about the syllable types, explicitly using the sounds -- explicitly connecting the sounds with the way the different things are written -- the phonemes and everything -- those phonemic sounds.
Kandise Lucas: And when you use that -- when you use those strategies, what primary reading program were you using?
Jugnu Agrawal: I am -- I don't want to answer that question. I'm sorry.
Kandise Lucas: You don't have a choice. You need to answer my question.
Jugnu Agrawal: No, but I --
John Cafferky: Well, she -- the question if she knows or has an answer.
Kandise Lucas: No. She just said, "I don't want to answer that question."
John Cafferky: Well, that's --
Kandise Lucas: That's not an option.
John Cafferky: That's just an idiom.
Kandise Lucas: Okay. So what --
Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell: You can't speak for her, Mr. Cafferky. I heard what she said. Do you not know the answer?
Jugnu Agrawal: I don't know the answer.