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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.  Preschool, eligible individuals, may apply for open enrollment. However, parents may not make an application to open enroll their nondisabled preschooler.

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 must be made in consultation with the resident district and the appropriate AEA(s) prior 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 appropriateness of 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 AEA Director of Special Education in which the potential receiving district is located.

The Director’s determination shall be based upon all relevant information and the recommendation of a diagnostic education team from the potential receiving district. The team shall include a representative from the resident district who has the authority to commit district resources, a representative of the AEA that serves the potential receiving district and other professionals, as needed, to evaluate student assessment information and student needs in light of the potential receiving district’s 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.

If, after accepting an eligible individual through open enrollment, the receiving district determines that it cannot meet the needs of the child, the receiving district continues to be responsible for a FAPE but may seek placement in another district.

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 an 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.