Having a Voice and Making a Choice in Where Your Child Goes to School


Children are entitled to a free public education in the district where they live. In Iowa, parents can also choose among schools in other districts if that's where they want their child to go. Open enrollment lets Iowa parents or guardians who live in one district enroll their children into another Iowa school district where they don't live.

How Do I Open Enroll My Child?

The process involves two districts. The first is the resident district (where you live). The second is receiving district (the one you are applying to attend). To begin, fill out an application form. You can get the form from the district central office or the Department of Education website at The form must go to both the resident district and receiving district. This must be done on time. The deadline is March 1 of the year before you want the open enrollment to start. Some exceptions to this deadline may apply.

When Does the School District Make A Decision?

Most times, the receiving district decides to approve or deny the application. This happens when the school board meets. You can find out from the district the date of the meeting when the application will be considered. You have the right to attend the meeting. If you want to speak, ask to be put on the agenda. You can do this by contacting the school's administrative office. If you are not on the agenda, there is still limited time for the public to speak. Ask that your comments and those of the board are recorded. The information discussed at the meeting may be very important, if you disagree with the board's decision.

How Are Open Enrollment Decisions Made?

Open enrollment decisions are made at school board meetings. Both school boards will vote on the request. The school district where you live has to approve the request. The school district where you want your child to attend also has to approve the request.

It is important for you to attend both school board meetings when decisions on your application will be made. You should ask the Boards to make a tape recording of discussions about your application. Otherwise, it may be hard to have a court review what happened.

If approved, low-income open enrollees can get transportation assistance. Once a student is open enrolled, it continues until graduation or until the parent chooses to change enrollment. You don't have to re-apply each year.

What If I Want My Child To Continue At His Current School Placement Even Though We Are Moving Out Of The District?

The law states when a child who was a resident student moves out of the district, his application for open enrollment "shall not be denied." This means a school board must approve a request for open enrollment in this case. This does not apply to children entering kindergarten for the first time.

For What Reasons Can a School District Deny an Open Enrollment Request?

School districts must state reasons for denials. Applications may be lawfully denied for any of the reasons below.

  • Deadlines are not met.
  • The resident district has a desegregation plan that would be adversely affected.
  • There is not classroom space for the student.
  • The student is under suspension or expulsion from his/her current school district.
  • There are exceptions to the above reasons in certain cases. For example, a family that moves after the deadline passed may be allowed to apply late or miss the deadline. If a school district says there is not enough space for your child, the school board must base the decision on an "insufficient classroom space" policy.

How Can I Change An Open Enrollment Denial?

Most of the time you will have to ask a court to reverse an open enrollment denial.

You can ask the State Board at the Iowa Department of Education to reverse the decision if the reason you want to change school districts is either:

  • Your child wants to change school districts because of harassment. -or-
  • Your child wants to change school districts because of serious illness.

You must send a letter of appeal to the Iowa Board of Education. The letter must include:

  • your contact information,
  • the child's name and grade,
  • the name of the school district that made the denial,
  • the date the denial was made, and
  • a statement about why you are appealing.

You have to sign the letter and have it notarized. You have to appeal within 30 days of the denial. If you appeal to the Department of Education, the Department will use an administrative law judge to hear the case.

If you are not trying to change school districts because of harassment or serious illness, then you cannot appeal to the Department of Education. You will have to ask the court to review the school board's decision. This is most likely done through a Writ of Certiorari. This is a special request asking the court to decide if a board acted lawfully. This is a very limited kind of court review. There is no hearing. The court just looks at what the board did. That is why it is so important to have a tape recording of the school board meeting where the board may have discussed your application. You have 30-days from the date of the school board decision to file this kind of lawsuit to fight the school board decision to the district court.

Where Can I Get More Details About Open Enrollment and Other Education Issues?

  • Visit the Iowa Department of Education website at
  • Especially for special education issues, contact your local Area Education Agency or The ASK Resource Center, Parent Training and Information Center of Iowa (PTI) at 515-243-1713 or toll free at 1-800-450-8667.
  • Look at your local school policies. Most are posted on a district website or you can get them from the school administration.
    Go to local school board meetings to keep updated, informed, and to be heard if you wish.
  • Talk to your child's teacher(s), counselors, and school administrators.

Assisting low-income Iowans with education issues is a priority for Iowa Legal Aid. Call 1-800-532-1275 to find out which office serves your county. You may also go to the Iowa Legal Aid Website at

Last Review and Update: Jul 13, 2009

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