Ahh yes, the acronyms again! I swear there are more acronyms in special education than in any other field. I could write an entire email that would include 25% text and 75% acronyms and it would take a CIA code-cracker days to read it.
My hope is that (if you've been following IEP Guru for awhile) you could crack that code in under an hour.
Today I going to discuss the second most important acronym in special education after I.D.E.A. (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)...
We're talking about F.A.PE.-- free, appropriate, public education.
F.A.P.E. is the foundation upon which special education is built. F.A.P.E. ensures that our kids with disabilities are able to access their right to an education just like those without disabilities. F.A.P.E. means that the learning of our students with special needs matters as much as it does for any other student.
But what is F.A.P.E, really? And what does a free, appropriate public education mean?
Let's break it down into it's relevant parts:
1. Free: This is the easiest of the bunch! All children, disability or not, are entitled to a free education funded by local and state government (and in reality, the taxpayers). No matter where they're educated (in their neighborhood school, in a specialized school, or even at home for students who are medically fragile), and no matter how much that education will cost (due to additional staffing needs, specialized software, etc)-- children with disabilities have a right to be educated for free just like their peers who don't have disabilities.
2. Appropriate: Here's where it gets messy. In addition to a free education, students have a right to receive an appropriate education. But who decides what's appropriate? For many, many years this was up in the air and left to the discretion of IEP teams and individual districts. In 2017 however, a formalized consensus was given by the United States Supreme Court in their Endrew vs. Douglas County decision:
"The Court held that to meet its substantive obligation under the I.D.E.A., a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. In clarifying the standard, the Court rejected the “merely more than de minimis” (i.e. merely more than trivial) standard applied by the Tenth Circuit. In determining the scope of F.A.P.E., the Court reinforced the requirement that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives." (Emphasis mine)
What does this look like for your child? Check out this blog post for an excellent resource about how to apply this information to ensure your child's educational program is appropriate for him or her.
3. Public: This simply means that a student with a disability is entitled to be educated in a public school (and ideally with their neighborhood peers), unless a more appropriate placement is determined by the IEP team. This provision ensures that students with disabilities are no longer automatically segregated to a specialized school like they were historically. But what if it's determined that a student is not receiving an appropriate education at the public school? If the parent can prove it, then the district is required to provide reimbursement for a private education so that the education is still free and appropriate, as the student is entitled. (This can be hard to swing though-- check your procedural safeguards for information about reimbursement for private schooling).
4. Education: What does your child's education really have to cover? What sort of education must be provided? I.D.E.A.'s definition says that students with disabilities are entitled to "special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living." Note-- this doesn't just include academic standards! A student with a disability is entitled to an education that also prepares them for employment and independent life.
That's today's summary of F.A.P.E! If nothing else, it's worth taking a survey of your child's current educational program and asking yourself whether it meets these basic benchmarks. If it falls short, you have some advocacy work ahead to ensure that your student is truly getting what they are entitled to; it's important to maximize those entitlements because at age 22 they dry up!
If you're concerned that your child might not be receiving what they should be out of the IEP process, or if you're unsure about how to go about advocating for their needs, please check out our IEP Guru resources page to start getting the help you need!