Federal Law

The federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) was originally enacted by the United States Congress in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The law has been revised many times over the years. The most recent amendments were passed by Congress in 2004, with final regulations published in 2006 (Part B for school-aged children) and in 2011 (Part C for babies and toddlers). Since all states currently accept federal education funding, all states are governed by the IDEA.

The IDEA requires states to:

  • Have policies and procedures for identifying students with disabilities.
  • Provide special education services to eligible students.
  • Have at least one Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) to answer parent questions and assist with dispute resolution.  (Iowa's PTI is ASK Resource Center in Johnston, Iowa.)

The IDEA and Dyslexia

Dyslexia is listed as an example of a Specific Learning Disability in the text of the IDEA. However, a private diagnosis of dyslexia does not automatically mean a child has a disability under the law and is therefore eligible for special education.  To receive special education, a student must be found to 1) have a disability under the law, and 2) be in need of specially designed instruction.

In Iowa, it is the responsibility of the Area Education Agency (AEA) to determine which children have a disability under the law and to make special education eligibility decisions.   AEA disability evaluations are non-diagnostic and typically focus on academic achievement testing - in other words, how well a child is doing in school subjects. Although not overtly stated, the AEAs typically define a child as having a disability when he or she performs academically in the bottom 10-12 percent. When disability is defined in this way, the majority of dyslexic students are not eligible for special education.  It is our belief that parents should challenge this practice of using an arbitrary academic performance standard as the basis for special education decisions.  According to the IDEA, it is possible for a child to be getting good grades, yet have a disability and be in need of specially designed instruction.

It is important to know that Iowa is the only state in the country that is non-categorical regarding special education. This means that the AEA does not use the specific disability categories listed in the IDEA when classifying a student as eligible for special education.  In Iowa all students who qualify are referred to as "eligible individuals."


More Information

Becoming familiar with the IDEA and Iowa's interpretation of it is recommended for all parents of dyslexic students. The following resources can provide you with further information:

IDEA 2004 - Information from Wrightslaw and links to the actual text of IDEA

ASK Resource Center - Iowa's federally funded Parent Training and Information Center.

Contact us for a list of Iowa attorneys who specialize in special education. Consulting with an attorney does not mean you plan to sue your school district. Legal consultations can help you better understand your rights and develop a plan for improving your child's situation.  Initial consultations are often free of charge.