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More Iowa students could qualify for special ed programs

Federal judge rules state agencies violated the Disabilities Education Act.

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 12:42 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge's ruling could mean more Iowa students with learning disabilities will qualify for special education programs.

An administrative law judge ruled last year that Iowa education agencies violated the Disabilities Education Act by denying an Urbandale student's access to special education classes, The Des Moines Register reported . The student, identified in court documents as A.W., was denied services because she was performing well in her classes.

The Iowa Department of Education challenged Administrative Law Judge Christie Scase's ruling, but a federal judge affirmed the decision.

Attorney Curt Sytsma, who represented the student, said students throughout Iowa could benefit from the ruling. Although federal law says students are entitled to special education help if they have a disability, Sytsma said additional qualifications can exclude students, such as those who are at grade level but still struggle with a learning disability.

Sytsma said the state Department of Education has now adjusted its procedural manuals to remove rules requiring student to be low performing to qualify for special education classes.

Katie Greving, president of advocacy group Decoding, supported the ruling.

"It's a step in the right direction," Greving said. "It takes out of the manual . that you have to be so far behind to get help."

Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp said most students evaluated for special education already receive services so the ruling's impact could be minimal.

"It's not that we do not address learning disabilities, but in addition to that, we need to know whether students need specialized instruction to meet their unique needs," Hupp said. "This is what defines special education in schools."

A state board agreed Monday to pay $317,769 in legal fees to the student's lawyers.

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