In our May 3, 2010 blog entry we looked at the history of the term FAPE -- free, appropriate, public education -- which is the standard that schools must follow. Let's look a bit further at how FAPE applies in practice and what parents can expect from their schools.
First of all, it is important to remember that only students who receive services under the IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are entitled to FAPE. That means that if your daughter could benefit from supports in reading or writing, but does not meet the level of disability required by either of these laws, there is no legal requirement for her school to address these issues. Parents should also be aware that FAPE extends to students who attend private schools, as well as those who attend public schools, but the level of services to private school students with disabilities may differ, because services for private school students are generally less well funded by the states.
The part of FAPE that causes the most disputes between families and schools is the term "appropriate". What a parent believes to be an appropriate service may be seen by the financially strapped school district as an unnecessary luxury. Mind you, finances should not be entering into the decision process, but they do all the time. Parents always want the best for their child; schools must take into account the needs of all of their students and the more resources they expend on any one student, the fewer are left for everyone else.
Parents can be more effective when speaking to their child's school by keeping the terminology of FAPE in mind. When seeking to have the school include a particular service or program on your son's IEP (Individualized Education Program), don't talk about it being "best" or "ideal". Speak instead about it being "appropriate", and that it would allow your child to "make adequate yearly progress". Remember that there are many services that all children would find helpful but that your school district is not required to provide a perfect education. Keeping this in mind as you work with your child's school may help you get the most you are entitled to under the law.