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A lawsuit charging that Boston University violates state and federal laws by discriminating against learning-disabled students has been filed on behalf of all such students at the private university.

The university traditionally has offered students with documented learning disabilities various accommodations, such as providing tape-recorded textbooks or permitting students to substitute certain courses.

But in the 1995-96 school year, university officials put forward a new policy for evaluating students' accommodation requests, according to the class action, filed July 15 in federal district court in Boston. The new policy bars certain forms of accommodation for the estimated 480 learning-disabled students among the university's 30,000 students, the suit charges. The policy also requires students to provide recent test results documenting their disabilities--tests that would cost each student about $1,000, the suit says.

Kevin Carleton, a university spokesman, said the university has not set new policy but is just enforcing its existing policies. Some faculty members have complained that students have received inappropriate accommodation, he said. "Boston University will not be bullied into lowering its academic standards," says a statement issued by the university.

A debate has been raging in recent years over whether teachers should rely on a phonetic or whole-language approach to teach children to read.

But according to a group of reading researchers, that debate is largely moot. Children, especially those with learning disabilities or at risk of having reading difficulties, generally need a balanced approach.

A coalition of 25 education groups last month launched a national campaign with the theme "Learning to read, reading to learn: helping children with learning disabilities to succeed." Financed by the U.S. Department of Education's office of special education programs, a group of researchers led by the National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators, based in Eugene, Ore., compiled a review of existing reading research. The results:

"The relatively recent swing away from phonics instruction to a singular whole-language approach is making it more difficult to lift children with learning disabilities out of the downward learning spiral. ... Research indicates that reading can be taught effectively with a balanced approach that uses the best of both teaching approaches."

Free packets with teaching tips and resources are available from ERIC (800) 925-7853 or (800) 328-0272.

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