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Under federal law, your child is guaranteed the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This includes if your child has a disability or a learning difference. 

Free Appropriate Public Education is an essential legal right that ensures your child has access to the education they deserve through your local school district, whether it is through one of their schools or a school they pay for if they cannot provide your child adequate services.

If your child is struggling in school due to learning differences, a disability, or a unique way of processing the world, knowing your rights is vital to making sure your child receives every advantage available. 

What Does Free Appropriate Public Education Mean?

Free Appropriate Public Education requires the school districts to provide every student with the services and supports they need to make appropriate growth. It is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. School districts use IEPs (Independent Education Plan) and 504 Plans to make sure the student receives the decided upon services. 

This will come at no cost to the parent, as it is “free”, and will meet the individual student’s needs, as it is “appropriate.” The education must meet the state’s standards, as well as the federal ones

Through FAPE, your child is not guaranteed substantial results as long as the services provided set them up to do so. If a child is not making adequate progress according to their potential, the child study team can reconvene to make changes to their plan.

What Does “Appropriate” Mean?

It can be difficult as a parent to determine whether or not your child is receiving an “appropriate” education. This is because an appropriate education can take a variety of forms:

  • a general education with push-in or pull-out support
  • a general education that includes a special education teacher in the room
  • services your child receives outside of the classroom
  • a special education classroom
  • a mix of special education and general education classes throughout the day
  • customized instruction delivered at home
  • private school paid for by the school district

When looking at your child’s current education, ask yourself whether or not your student with a disability or learning difference is having their needs met in a similar way to students without disabilities or learning differences. This will tell you if the right services are being provided, and if the current plan is working. In addition, expect the district to provide any equipment or materials your child requires. 

An “appropriate” education also ensures there will be evaluations and routine reevaluations to match the growth of the child with the right placement, as is required by IDEA. Your child’s team should be in communication with each other and with you about any changes that are needed. 

What Is The School District’s Responsibility?

It is the school’s responsibility, educationally and financially, to provide the appropriate education and conduct evaluations to determine what that will look like. This means your school district is expected to:

  • create a customized education plan for your child (504 or IEP), if they require it.
  • conduct evaluations and periodic reevaluations to determine the services and education plan necessary.
  • provide services your child needs at no cost to you, such as occupational or speech therapy.
  • provide an education in the least restrictive environment (LRE) where your child can still benefit.
  • enable access to extracurricular activities and non-academic activities to all students, regardless of disability.

The Relationship Between FAPE and the IEP

An IEP, if your child is deemed eligible for one, is the way a school district ensures your child is receiving an appropriate education. They document your child’s individual educational goals, how the educational goals will be met, and what services and programs will be employed. The goals will be set based upon the student’s individual circumstances

Even when every party has the best intentions, sometimes parents may disagree with a school district on what an appropriate education for their child requires. When such disagreements arise, it is essential that the parents are well-versed in Free Appropriate Public Education. That way, you can work with the district to determine a way to move forward. 


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