Maryland's two U.S. senators are making inquiries with the Army about why a student at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson was denied a chance for a full ROTC scholarship at James Madison University because he is dyslexic.
Spokesmen for Democrats Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski said yesterday that the senators contacted Army officials to ask about the military policy after Michael A. Soule, 18, of Baldwin was turned down for the ROTC scholarship, worth $60,000 for an out-of-state student.
Soule, a Calvert Hall senior who is a member of the National Honor Society and a varsity athlete, was required to pass a medical exam, but was disqualified by the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board when he disclosed that he is dyslexic. He was denied a medical waiver by the Army's command surgeon.
A spokesman for the Army's Cadet Command at Fort Monroe, Va., confirmed that dyslexia is one of the medical conditions that disqualifies applicants for ROTC scholarships. The policy also applies to applicants to the military academies and to enlisted personnel, according to a spokesman for the Department of Defense.
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that impairs the ability to recognize and comprehend the written word.
Jennifer Healy, director of Calvert Hall's Xavier Program for students with mild learning disorders, said she couldn't understand why Soule was turned down when two previous graduates with learning disabilities had been granted full ROTC scholarships.
She said an Army spokeswoman told her that Soule's academic performance was "irrelevant" because Defense Department rules dictate that an applicant with a "history of a learning disability" be disqualified.
Tom Viall, executive director of the International Dyslexia Association in Baltimore, said he wasn't surprised at the Army's lack of understanding about dyslexia.
He said a misperception remains that learning disabilities are connected to mental retardation. But he said his association is trying to raise public awareness about learning disabilities.
"We have turned the corner, but we still have a long, long way to go," he said.
Healy said the school received many calls of support yesterday for Soule.
Soule, who is finishing final exams, said he was overwhelmed by the calls from people offering to help.
School officials also enlisted the help of Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican.