Special-education services in Iowa may expand after ruling

Thursday, July 27, 2017

DES MOINES — A judge’s ruling could expand special-education services to thousands of Iowa students.

Administrative Law Judge Christie Scase recently ordered the Iowa Education Department to reimburse an Urbandale couple more than $1,000 for private tutoring they provided after their child was denied special-education programming at school, The Des Moines Register reported.

Court documents didn’t name the family. An independent evaluation in 2014 showed their child may have dyslexia, but the family struggled to have her qualify for special education services.

Another evaluation by University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics strongly recommended the girl receive an individualized learning plan, but one was never put in place.

The plan outlines how a special education student will be accommodated and includes learning goals.

Scase wrote in her decision that the department should revisit its policies on determining who qualifies for special education.

She said the state shouldn’t require students to be severely behind his or her peers before recognizing a disability.

It’s possible that thousands more Iowa students could qualify for special education if the department were to alter its eligibility rules, said Randy Califf, vice president of the advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia Iowa.

“We are hopeful (that any) new rules and procedures will allow for inclusion of children before they fall off the charts, so to speak,” he said. “Ideally, processes would take into consideration a student’s capacity to learn as a factor.”

When determining if a student qualifies for special education, Iowa schools consider many factors, including how a student responds to education and how his or her performance compares to what is expected in the student’s age group or grade, said Staci Hupp, a spokeswoman for the department.

“Our approach to special education in Iowa has been to not solely focus on labels or diagnoses, but rather on what kids need to succeed in school,” Hupp said.

The state Education Department is appealing the case in U.S. District Court, seeking a declaration that its rules comply with federal law.