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One Student's Struggle With the Mamaroneck School District

MAMARONECK, N.Y. - Ian Hynes was devastated when he found out he was still reading at a third-grade level as an eighth grader at Hommocks Middle School.

The Mamaroneck resident was diagnosed with double-deficit dyslexia, spatial impairments and ADHD in 2008, a unique combination of learning disabilities found in only five percent of dyslexics in the U.S. "It was pretty much teachers telling me I'm stupid and getting bullied for being different," said Ian, who left Hommocks reading at the same level as when he entered. "I felt really stupid the entire time."

Two years later, in August 2010, Ian's mother Susan filed a lawsuit against the Mamaroneck School District for failing to meet the federal standards under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

She claims the district told her they would get Ian up to speed, but instead gave him easier tests to make it look like he was making progress. "They knew, or should have known that he wasn't making any meaningful progress," she said.

Ian, now 17, is a rising senior at the Gow School for dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Susan is asking for the district to pay for Ian's $53,000 tuition.

"We had spent 10 years trying to find a good diagnosis of what the problem was and an appropriate program for him," said Susan, who enrolled Ian at Gow instead of Mamaroneck High School. "If you talk to any expert in the field, they will tell you that one of the greatest problems with the public school system is teachers don't understand how to identify dyslexia, or how to specifically teach to a dyslexic."

At first, Ian hated going away to school, but he had a major turning point within the first month. "I learned how to read," he said. "I was like, yes! This makes sense!"

The Gow School uses a teaching method called reconstructive language, which helped Ian put letters and words together in a way that made sense to him. After one year, Ian was reading at an eighth-grade level and participating in school plays. Now, he's looking at colleges and pursuing an acting career. He even has an agent. Had he gone to Mamaroneck High School, Ian said he would likely be doing drugs and going nowhere.

"Gow allows him to take this unique combination of disabilities and turn them into something wonderful," Susan said.

The Hynes' case has been stuck on the federal level for six months, but began as a due-process complaint in April of 2010. Their case was heard by an independent hearing officer, who ruled in their favor. But a state review officer overturned the decision when the district appealed.

The mother of three is planning to file a second lawsuit before the two-year statute of limitations runs its course, requesting full reimbursement for all four years of Ian's tuition at the upstate boarding school.

"I really don't wish them ill," said Susan. "Ninety-five percent of the kids did great in Mamaroneck, it's a fine public school. But for those five percent, it's terrible."

Spokesperson for the district, Debbie Manetta, wrote in an e-mail that she could not comment on the case.

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