Free Appropiate Public Education: Additional Insights

  • By:sierraedlaw

When it was time for Janice Payton to enroll her special need daughter in an elementary school, the mother of five was concerned about the education accommodations offered by the school. “I had no idea at the time that my daughter was eligible to receive special accommodations for her learning disability,” said Janice during an interview posted on a special education blog. “I had to learn on the fly about the legal protections special needs kids enjoy.”

One of the federal statutes that help special need children adapt to the general education environment is called the Free Appropriate Public Education Act (FAPE).

Overview of FAPE

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 created a landmark legal right for children who possess one or more physical and/or learning disabilities. Under Section 504 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Free Appropriate Public Education represents the “provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual needs of handicapped persons as well as the needs of non-handicapped persons are met and based on adherence to procedural safeguards outlined in the law.”

FAPE ensures the unique needs of children are met by providing access to general curriculum, as well as pass state standards for each grade during the progression through secondary school. The United States Department of Education establishes the regulations that mandate the provisions covered by FAPE. The groundbreaking special education law ensures children with disabilities have access to the same educational tools offered to their peers.

FAPE Criteria

The United States Supreme Court set the legal precedent in Board of Education v. Rowley that determines whether a school district has met all of the FAPE requirements. As set forth by the court majority, each state must comply “with the procedures set forth in the FAPE Act.” The guidelines established by the Supreme Court allow parents to review school records, attend school district administration meetings, and most important, have a communications channel for voicing complaints about the treatment of a special education child. Under FAPE criteria, parents must receive information about any modifications made to the educational placement of a child and if the parents disagree to the educational placement, they have the option to seek an independent educational evaluation for their child.

What is an Appropriate Education?

FAPE defines an appropriate education to meet the unique needs of children who possess physical and/or learning disabilities. Provisions of FAPE ensure schools address both “academic and functional needs” of special education children. Functional needs include assistance in moving from class to class, as well as help meeting nutritional requirements during breakfast and lunch. An appropriate education under FAPE includes “access to the general curriculum to meet the challenging expectations established for all children.”

Educational Benefit Defined

FAPE includes language that allows federal regulators to define the educational benefits enjoyed by special need children in the classroom. The most important educational benefit of FAPE is the educational progress made by special needs children. However, several conflicting court decisions have not set the standard for clearly defining educational progress. In the Board of Education v. Rowley Supreme Court decision, the majority ruled that states do not have to develop individualized education plans that “maximize the potential of handicapped children.” Other federal court decisions have narrowed the definition of educational benefits for special needs children, but the legal language of the decisions leave plenty of wriggle room for school districts.

FAPE set the groundwork for establishing the educational legal rights for special needs children. However, the Act contains considerable ambiguous legal language that confuses many parents. Our law firm can help you understand the statutes that define the heart of FAPE. Contact us today for a free initial consultation to learn about FAPE and California laws that pertain to special education.

Posted in: IEP's, Special Education, Student Advocacy, Student Disabilities