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### The Impact of AEA Reform on Iowa’s Children: Insights from a Mother

Heather Sievers, the creator of Advocates for Iowa’s Children and a mother in Altoona with a child facing rare disabilities, is at the forefront of the battle. A photo of Heather and her daughter Rowan, provided by the author with permission, portrays their journey.

The urgency of the matter is evident as Heather raises her voice to enlighten our communities and amplify the voices of numerous families statewide. These families implore Iowa legislators to halt the enactment of the Area Education Agency (AEA) education reform bill during the upcoming 2024 legislative session.

Drawing from her extensive background in health care transformation and process enhancement within large systems, Heather emphasizes the necessity for a meticulous and comprehensive study before implementing such a significant reform. Rushing into legislative changes of this magnitude poses a considerable risk to the well-being and future of our children.

Heather’s personal narrative sheds light on the challenges faced while raising a child with disabilities. The journey began with the diagnosis of Smith-Magenis Syndrome for her daughter on March 2, 2020. The prognosis outlined a progressive condition with various health implications, including intellectual disabilities and developmental delays.

Navigating through the complexities of obtaining a diagnosis and essential support for Rowan proved to be a daunting task. The family’s sacrifices, including selling their home to sustain Rowan’s care, underscore the lengths they went to ensure her well-being.

Upon returning to Iowa, the Heartland Area Education Agency played a pivotal role in providing crucial support to Rowan. Their interventions, tailored therapies, and educational assistance were instrumental in Rowan’s developmental progress and integration into school programs.

The collaborative efforts of the AEA, therapists, and educators culminated in the formulation of an individualized education program (IEP) for Rowan. This personalized approach facilitated her academic and personal growth, enabling her to achieve milestones that defied initial prognoses.

Heather’s advocacy extends beyond her personal experiences to highlight the indispensable role of AEAs in bridging service gaps and ensuring timely interventions for children with disabilities. The AEA’s comprehensive services, ranging from mental health care to crisis intervention, cater to the diverse needs of students across Iowa.

The proposed AEA reform bill has sparked widespread concern and resistance within the community. Heather, along with numerous parents and advocates, urges legislators to reconsider the bill’s implications and prioritize the well-being of Iowa’s children. The proposed changes risk dismantling the integrated AEA system, potentially limiting access to essential services and hindering academic progress for students with disabilities.

In conclusion, Heather’s impassioned plea resonates with parents and communities alike, emphasizing the critical need to safeguard our children’s future through responsible and well-informed legislative decisions. The collective effort to oppose the AEA reform bill underscores a shared commitment to protecting the rights and well-being of Iowa’s children.