The Idaho Department of Education announced on Tuesday that revisions are required for the Idahos Special Education eligibility criteria to align with federal regulations.
This revelation did not come as a surprise to Decoding Dyslexia Idaho and education advocate Ashley Brittain, who filed a federal complaint after years of attempting to convince the Sherri Ybarra administration that Idaho was not in compliance. Ybarra served as Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction for eight years.
Robin Zikmund, founder of Decoding Dyslexia Idaho, expressed disappointment, stating, “It’s unfortunate that Debbie Critchfield inherited this because we started this fight in 2018 under the previous superintendent.”
Idaho has been Incorrectly Categorizing Thousands of Children
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) emphasized in a letter that Idaho’s criteria for specific learning disability (SLD) services set a “higher bar” than allowed by federal law. According to an email from The Brittain Group to state officials, Idaho has been incorrectly categorizing thousands of children under the SLD category.
Zikmund highlighted that students with learning disabilities like dyslexia were consistently denied services. As an advocate, she attended numerous Individualized Education Program eligibility meetings across the state, where IEPs outline special education instruction and services.
When parents contested the denial of SLD services, Zikmund explained that some districts would categorize the student under other health impairments (OHI), which does not guarantee the same services. Dyslexia falls under the SLD category.
Zikmund stressed the significance of the issue, saying, “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. This makes sense, considering dyslexia affects one in five children.”
Following OSEP’s inquiry, the Department of Education will commence revisions to the Idahos Special Education Manual, as outlined in an official press release.
Revision of Eligibility Criteria for Identifying a Child with an SLD
In an Oct. 20 letter, OSEP instructed the state to review sections of the manual addressing the requirements for students to receive Idahos Special Education services for SLD. OSEP outlined five mandatory steps to be completed within 90 days, including a review and revision of eligibility criteria for identifying a child with an SLD under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The state must issue notifications of policy revisions to relevant parties.
Zikmund sees this as a game-changer, stating, “These kids are going to finally have a chance at getting effective small group instruction that they need. Without them qualifying, those students fall through the cracks, further and further behind.”
Once the manual was revised, Zikmund stressed the need for “massive” statewide training. “All of the Idahos Special Education supervisors, and therefore their schools, have been trained to follow criteria that are not in compliance with federal law. They have to be re-trained.”
The Department of Education plans to convene a working group meeting on Dec. 19 at 8 a.m. at the Department of Education’s Barbara Morgan Conference Room. The situation is lamentable for the thousands of kids seeking support and services but were turned away, as expressed by advocate Ashley Brittain in an email.