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Open Enrollment Process

In Iowa, all parents may request their child attend a district other than their district of residence through the open enrollment process.

Current law allows parents/guardians to apply for open enrollment at any time without the need for good cause

Note that open enrollment applies to all students in grades K-12. Additionally, open enrollment applies to preschool (PK) learners with an instructional IEP. Open enrollment does not apply to preschool learners who are not eligible for special education or who have support-only IEPs.

The Open Enrollment Flowchart illustrates the process of applying for open enrollment, for students with disabilities.

For additional information on Open Enrollment, view the Open Enrollment Handbook.

Open Enrollment: Approval/Denial of Eligible Individuals

When an open enrollment application is made, there are several reasons that would allow the potential receiving district to deny the application.  Regarding eligible individuals, the application could be denied if the district does not have the appropriate special education program.

If a parent/guardian moves and wishes for their student to continue at the original resident district under open enrollment (often known as the “continuation rule”), requests cannot be denied due to insufficient classroom space policies.

The determination of whether an eligible individual’s application is approved must be made in consultation with the resident district and the appropriate AEA(s) prior to approval of the open enrollment application. The AEA Director of Special Education will designate the AEA professionals who will participate in the consultation process.

A potential receiving district may deny an open enrollment application if it does not have space or cannot provide an appropriate program.

Lack of Adequate Classroom Space: If an open enrollment application is denied due to insufficient classroom space, no prior written notice is necessary.

Lack of Appropriate Special Education Program: If an open enrollment application is denied on the basis of inability to provide a FAPE, the potential receiving district must provide the parents with a Prior Written Notice (PWN) documenting the denial.

If the special education program in the receiving district is at issue, the final determination of the appropriateness of a special education instructional program shall be the responsibility of the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.

Should a consultation (resident and receiving districts and respective AEAs) result in disagreement on whether FAPE can be provided in the receiving district, the resident district IEP team will convene with all required team members. In addition, district representatives from the potential receiving district will be invited to the IEP meeting to assist in decision making regarding the ability to provide a FAPE.

Open Enrollment: Responsibility for FAPE

Once a receiving district approves the open enrollment of an eligible individual, that district is responsible for providing or making provision for a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) until open enrollment ends when the student:

  • Graduates
  • Moves into the receiving district
  • Moves out of state
  • Moves into another Iowa district and chooses to attend the new resident district
  • Attends an accredited nonpublic school
  • Drops out of school

If a student is placed temporarily in foster care, juvenile detention center, a treatment facility, or similar placement, the open enrollment status will automatically be reinstated when the student returns.

Ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring that an appropriate program is maintained for an open enrolled special education student shall rest with the resident district. The receiving district and the receiving Area Education Agency director shall provide, at least on an annual basis, evaluation reports and information to the resident district on each special education open enrolled student. The receiving district shall provide notice to the resident district of all scheduled IEP meetings for each open enrollment student.

If after accepting an open enrollment request, the receiving district determines it cannot meet the student's needs, the IEP team must meet and determine a new placement. The receiving district may not terminate the student's open enrollment nor decide to unilaterally place the student in another district.  However, the IEP team could determine that FAPE cannot be provided in the receiving district and a placement could be made in another district program.

Open Enrollment: Preschool Programs

For preschool students, receiving specially designed instructional services per an IEP, open enrollment requirements do apply. Parents must follow the open enrollment process to request their child attend a district other than their district of residence. Thus, if the student has been attending a Statewide Voluntary Four Year Old Preschool Program (SWVPP) outside the resident district prior to being found eligible for an instructional IEP, the parent must follow all open enrollment requirements and timelines for consideration for the student to remain in the current program.

NOTE: Open enrollment does not apply for students who are enrolled in SWVPP and who have not been determined eligible for an instructional IEP. Per state guidelines, parents may enroll their child into any district that offers a SWVPP whether or not it is their resident district without the need to open enroll.

Open Enrollment: Districts with Virtual Schools

Iowa currently has multiple districts that host virtual schools. Parents living in any other Iowa district may make an application for open enrollment to one of these virtual schools. Iowa's AEA Directors of Special Education have agreed upon a process to support decision-making by the districts hosting virtual schools and to establish responsibility for support services.  For additional information on open enrollment to a district with a virtual school process, refer to the Open Enrollment Flowchart.

The Iowa Department of Education has issued guidance regarding the open enrollment of eligible individuals into districts offering a virtual school option, as well as a list of the approved district or accredited nonpublic online schools available to learners.