Individualized Solutions To Education Law Issues.

What constitutes 'free appropriate public education?'

If you are the parent of a child with special education needs, you face unique challenges every day. One of them is ensuring that your child gets a good education. The law ostensibly is on your side in this regard. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act states clearly that special needs children are entitled to "free appropriate public education."

A common sense interpretation of that would be that appropriateness be gauged by what results in a child developing and progressing at a rate that is close to what others achieve in the same grade level. But in the decades since the start of FAPE, interpretations have varied greatly – to a point where the question eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. And last year the high court issued a unanimous opinion on how it must be construed.

FAPE means providing more than a bare minimum

The case that brought the issue to the fore was that of Endrew F., a boy with autism. For the first five years of his schooling, he attended public schools. Each year, the system proposed the individualized education program for Endrew required by law. It barely changed from year to year so when the IEP for his 5th grade year came in, his parents rejected it and enrolled him in a private school where he began to flourish.

When the parents sought reimbursement for the private school tuition, ruling officials at every level denied relief. The officials said the school district IEPs might have only provided Endrew with minimal educational benefit, but it was enough to meet the requirements of the law.

The Supreme Court wholeheartedly disagreed. It held that programs offering only slight benefit from year to year aren't enough. Rather, to satisfy the law, any reasonable IEP should ensure that every child has a chance to meet challenging objectives. The opinion says otherwise, the child "can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all."

Of course, the challenge now is to leverage this decision to advocate for the services and support you believe your child needs. In that effort, a skilled attorney's help can be vital.

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