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A Brief Overview of FAPE

Last updated on: July 6, 2023

The provision of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) is a fundamental right for children with disabilities in the United States. In New Jersey, this commitment to ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students is deeply ingrained in the state’s education system. This article aims to provide a concise overview of FAPE in New Jersey, examining its legal foundation, key principles, and the rights it guarantees to students and their families.

Understanding and effectively advocating for FAPE can be a complex task, requiring a comprehensive understanding of special education law and its application. This is where the skills of a New Jersey special needs trust lawyer can be invaluable. At The Matus Law Group, our team of New Jersey special needs trust lawyers may be able to help families receive the guidance and support necessary to navigate the educational system, ensure your child’s individual needs are met, and address any challenges that may arise along the way. Contact us today at (732) 281-0060 to schedule a consultation.

What Does FAPE Stand For

The Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is an essential requirement mandated by both New Jersey state law and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Its primary goal is to ensure that every eligible student between the ages of three and 21 is provided with a personalized education service within an environment that imposes the least possible restrictions. Under this mandate, students with disabilities are entitled to receive a tailored program consisting of special education services and the necessary support to facilitate their academic and personal growth.

New Jersey special education lawyer

To create an effective framework for delivering these services, each student’s individual requirements are meticulously assessed and taken into account during the formulation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This process involves extensive collaboration and consultation among educators, experts, and the student’s parents or guardians. By engaging multiple stakeholders in the IEP development, a comprehensive understanding of the student’s unique needs and learning objectives can be achieved. Consequently, the IEP serves as a blueprint that outlines the specific services and accommodations necessary to meet the student’s educational goals effectively.

One crucial aspect of FAPE is that the services detailed in the IEP are fully funded by the public school district. This means that parents or guardians are exempt from any financial charges related to the specialized services and supports outlined in their child’s IEP. This commitment to providing these services at no cost to families reinforces the principle of equal access to education and ensures that financial limitations do not hinder a student’s ability to receive the necessary resources for their academic success. By eliminating financial barriers, FAPE guarantees that all students, especially those with special needs, have the opportunity to thrive in their educational journey.

Dissecting FAPE

“Free” means that there will be no cost to the eligible disabled child’s parents for the child to get an education. The child’s education will be a public expense. However, you will still be expected to pay for ancillary fees like membership fees for clubs.

“Appropriate” means that the child will receive an education that is tailored to his or her needs. Note that FAPE does not necessarily mean that the school is obligated to give the child the best possible education by law, but rather that the school provides some educational benefits to your child in order to get them up to grade-level standards. There is still a disconnect between what parents expect and what the reality is. What is considered “appropriate” will continue to evolve over time as the law matures.

“Public” means that the child will be educated for free in a public school system. You as the parent also have the choice to put them in a private education setting, but accommodations and cost of education will be at that school’s discretion.

“Education” means that through an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP), an eligible child will receive special education that’s designed to prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. However, the child must actually be realizing the benefits of their education. That is, the child’s IEP must actually be helping the child. If the IEP only looks like it meets the standards but is not helping the child, you as the parent could maybe use it as leverage to change the plan.

Dissecting FAPE Definition Explanation
Free No cost to parents Education is a public expense, but ancillary fees may apply.
Appropriate Tailored education School provides educational benefits to meet grade-level standards.
Public Free in public school Parents have the option for private education at their own cost and discretion.
Education Specialized learning Child receives education to prepare for further education, employment, and independent living. IEP must actually benefit the child.

What does FAPE do and not do, specifically?

FAPE requires a school to:

  • Provide special education or specially designed instruction methods for the child.
  • Provide related services like speech therapy or counseling.
  • Provide services for free, at no charge to the parent.
  • Provide modifications and accommodations to help the child participate in, and learn from, general education courses.
  • Create an IEP for the child, which is a written plan for how your child will receive education through the school.
  • Ensure the child is learning alongside other students who don’t have learning disabilities as much as possible.

On the other hand, FAPE does not require a school to give a learning-disabled child a “better” education than his or her peers. In other words, the child is not entitled to the best possible services. The school is not obligated to “maximize” their potential, just to get the child to a reasonable level of learning.

You are part of your child’s IEP team. The school cannot guarantee that they will provide a specific program or setting for your child. The IEP does not give the child preferential treatment when it comes to joining clubs, sports, or other extracurricular activity, either. They are given equal opportunity as other children in their level.

If you find yourself in a dispute with the school over FAPE or your child’s IEP, it helps to have a special education lawyer there to help iron out the dispute. The team at Matus Law Group is ready to help you advocate for your child and to guide you through whatever questions you may have. We will help your child as they grow up and go through their education path to help ensure their interests are represented in their IEP. We are familiar with all aspects of federal and New Jersey special education law. Please feel free to call us at (732) 281-0060  or contact us here today!

Christine Matus

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Christine Matus

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