A Brief Overview of FAPE

Last updated on: November 16, 2020

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every child that has a disability has the right to receive FAPE, or a “free and appropriate public education.” FAPE is your child’s right to get their unique educational needs met at school that’s appropriate to their developmental level in the least restrictive environment possible to their level.

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.

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 1 (732) 281-0060 or contact us here today!

Christine Matus

Christine Matus

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