Schools must adopt new special education manual

Schools may face new demands next year as Idaho prepares to enact its newly-revised Special Education Manual. 

The Idaho Department of Education completed its manual revision with plans for implementation in early July. Idaho learned in October of 2023 that portions of the manual’s criteria were not compliant with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

IDE’s workgroup fixed the issue but repercussions will likely trickle down to local SPED departments. Here are some of the challenges they may face next school year:

  • Finding and retaining qualified SPED educators is growing increasingly difficult, especially in rural areas.
  • SPED educators need to receive additional training for the revised criteria because they will be held accountable to the new manual.
  • Students who previously did not qualify under special learning disability (SLD) can request another evaluation process.
  • Districts may be under increased scrutiny following EdNews’ report on state investigations that uncovered dozens of violations of federal law and inadequate special education services. 
  • Finally, SPED educators are responsible for their usual influx of new eligibility evaluations, education support and annual reviews.

The federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) discovered that Idaho’s criteria for evaluating students with SLD was more stringent than federal law. Because of the “higher bar,” students were for years denied service or placed in the wrong category, such as other health impairment.

But there’s recourse for students who were incorrectly denied.

Between October of 2023 to March of 2024, cases determined not to have qualified for services will be re-evaluated by a local team — a parent, general education teacher, SPED teacher and administrator — to review whether they may have qualified if Idaho’s criteria were less restrictive.

“If they are eligible, the team should consider the need for compensatory services to support the student’s progress,” said Chynna Hirasaki, the state’s special education director.

About 377 students were affected: 288 did not qualify based on initial eligibility determination; 149 were previously identified as SLD and then through reevaluation determined to no longer qualify,  according to a statement from the IDE.

OSEP informed Idaho that the count needs to go back to Oct. 23, when the state was put on notice, wrote Scott Graf, the IDE’s communications director.

But the manual criteria was non-compliant with federal law for years, potentially affecting thousands of students.

“While these figures only go back to October, any student or family can ask for an evaluation or reevaluation at any point and a district is obligated to consider that request,” Graf wrote.

“The eligibility criteria of SLD can be quite difficult to comprehend and provide sufficient evidence for, compared to the other 13 eligibility criteria,” Hirasaki said. “The main challenge faced by the workgroup was to ensure that the criteria and supporting evidence were easily understandable to a layperson.”

Now, eligibility will be easier to determine, according to Hirasaki. 

The noncompliant manual put Idaho’s $71 million of special education federal funding at risk.

“It is imperative that the new criteria is put in effect before the next school year,” she said.

What’s next?

A range of training materials is under development for the fall: webinars, guidance documents, online modules and in-person classes. They’re also considering mini-grants to cover travel, substitutes or wages outside of contract hours.

“This gives districts the flexibility to choose the best training method,” Hirasaki said.

Meanwhile, the IDE will ask the State Board of Education to seek a temporary rule for the revised SLD while also pursuing a permanent rule change that would go in front of the Legislature for approval in 2025.

“The goal in pursuing the temporary rule is to bring the state into compliance with IDEA as soon as possible,” Graf wrote.

The state will be doing a broader evaluation of the entire manual to assess if any other updates are needed. Sections under scrutiny include those dealing with student eligibility, procedural safeguards and dispute resolution.

“Our goal is to provide clarity in places where there is ambiguity,” Hirasaki said.  


Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan 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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