Families incorrectly denied special education services can try again

Students who did not receive the correct special education services under Idaho’s noncompliant manual can be referred again and re-considered under new criteria.

However, there is not a completion timeline for revisions to the manual. The first meeting to address the problem is scheduled next week.

A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education forced Idaho to admit that it’s been incorrectly identifying children under the wrong special education category. According to the state, the manual’s incorrect language may have been introduced more than 15 years ago.

The Idaho Department of Education’s goal is to bring the state’s manual into full compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), federal law that ensures eligible children with disabilities receive appropriate education services.

State officials announced last week that Idaho’s criteria for special education eligibility does not comply with federal law. The federal government notified Idaho on Oct. 20 that it is not following federal guidelines. Idaho’s manual uses the word “and” twice, instead of IDEA’s “or.” The use of “and” creates a higher bar for eligibility requirements.

The state is preparing a formal response and convening a working group of special education experts on Dec. 19.

“We expect these two steps to help inform what path and timeline this process will ultimately take,” said Chynna Hirasaki, the state’s special education director.

Following the notification, the Department of Education emailed statewide SPED directors to make them aware of the federal inquiry. “We also offered to assist them in answering any related questions they might receive,” Hirasaki said.

Local directors were also notified that based on the federal inquiry, the Department of Education would not be reviewing any special learning disability (SLD) eligibilities for compliance, as part of this year’s general supervision file review. 

Idaho Education News found that in Idaho, the number of students classified under other health impairments (OHI) exceeds SLD. For the school year 2019-20, Idaho had 7,301 SLD and 7,611 OHI students. That pattern continued in subsequent years. OHI students outnumbered SLD by 1,015 in 2021-22 and by 1,572 in 2022-23.

Nationally, SLD is twice that of OHI but Idaho does not follow that trend. Learning disabilities like dyslexia and dysgraphia fall under SLD.

“Even our qualifying category numbers alone should have been a red flag to most. Idaho’s largest qualifying category is OHI.  Whereas in most states, SLD is the most common qualifying category,” Robin Sikmund, founder of Decoding Dyslexia Idaho, told EdNews last week.

The total number of Idaho students last year receiving SPED services is 38,298. The OHI category accounted for 23% of those students; SLD students accounted for 19%.

SPED officials meet next week

The Department of Education created a working group of statewide experts to oversee the revision process. The following individuals were selected to participate.

  • Hirasaki: the state’s special education director; previous director at Caldwell School District and COSSA; special education consulting teacher at Mountain Home School District; special education teacher at Bear Lake and Gooding school districts.
  • Emily Boles: director of Special Education Support and Technical Education; previous special education director and special education teacher at Sage International.
  • Kari Grier: associate director of Special Education Support and Technical Education; previous Special Education Support and Technical Education coordinator and special education teacher at West Ada School District.
  • Julie Mead: Department of  Education contractor, school psychologist, chief special services officer with Caldwell School District; previous state special education director, Special Education Support and Technical Education director; special education director and school psychologist at Caldwell School District.
  • Tammy LaBonne: Special Education Support and Technical Education contractor; school psychologist with Boise School District; previous school psychologist at Nampa School District.

The state is asking for parents, local directors, administrators and advocates to provide input for the group. Submit comments to [email protected]

“Hearing from a broad range of stakeholders will be helpful,” Hirasaki said.

Once the manual is corrected, extensive training will be necessary to help ensure that directors will be successful in implementing changes. The Department of Education will organize and offer training to help directors with this transition. 

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan is based in North Idaho and has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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