In the world of Special Education, acronyms and jargon are commonly used. Among these terms is a curious four letter term that basically spells out the entire goal of special education. FAPE is possibly the most important terminology in this field. Not only does it sum up the educational goals of a student with disabilities, it helps define what special education is all about.
FAPE stands for “free and appropriate education.” It was a term created under guidelines of “All Handicapped Children Act or 1975” (later to be known as Individual with Disability Education Act or IDEA). It states that under IDEA, students with disabilities have a right to a free and appropriate education. It sounds simple; however, in special education, nothing is what it appears.
FAPE is the central issue of the federal law [IDEA]; without it, the other requirements of the law are irrelevant (Hallahan, 1999). The law states that students who are determined eligible for services under IDEA are entitled to receive appropriate special education and related services that consist of specially designed instructions and services provided at public expense (Yell, 2006).
The definitions of a FAPE for a student with disabilities are:
To be provided at public expense, under supervision and direction, and without charge
To meet standards of the State educational agency
To include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the state involved
And to provide an individualized education program (IEP) (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. &1401 (a) (18)).
Before the days of IDEA and FAPE, “free and appropriate” education for children with disabilities was almost non-existent. Access to education for children with disabilities was limited in two major ways. First, many children with disabilities were excluded from public schools. Unless the parents had access or funding for private education, these children were often neglected. It is estimated that only 20 percent of all children with disabilities were being educated before the 1970s. In part, districts mandated this. In other cases, the state laws banned certain children with disabilities from attending. Those with developmental delays, physical impairments, or mental illness – to name a few – were often excluded from the classroom by state laws.
Secondly, before IDEA, more than 3 million students were often “left to fend for themselves in classrooms designed for education of their non-disabled peers (Hallahan, 1999)”. Accommodations or modifications to an individual student with disability didn’t exist. In fact, special education classifications and common terms such as Resource special Program (RSP), Special Day Class (SDC) and IEP didn’t exist before this particular law. In a sense, IDEA and the goal of FAPE became the building block for what modern special education programs throughout the country are based upon.
So how does FAPE work? Each part of FAPE has its own personal meaning. The “free” in FAPE, in terms of the law, means that the parent or guardian of a child with disability cannot be charged for special services that the student requires; it must be provided by public expense (Hallahan, 1999). However, school personnel may consider cost when making decisions about student’s special education program (Yell, 2006). In 1984, The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in the case, Clevenger v. Oak Ridge School Board that “cost considerations are only relevant when choosing between two residential options… the school district could choose the less expensive of the two placements.”
“Appropriate Education,” refers to the type of education a student should receive. It means that a student shall have an education that is designed to meet the individual needs of the student with disability. As a result, students with disabilities now have IEPS.FAPE is often brought up in an IEP meeting. However, FAPE -in definition or use in an IEP – is procedural rather than substantive (Yell, 2006). The reason an IEP is needed, when discussing “appropriate education,” is that it is individualized for the students. And it is to ensure another important part of IDEA known as the least restrictive environment.
Least restrictive environment or LRE is the least restrictive or “normal” place in which the student has the maximum feasible opportunity to have contact with peers who do not have disabilities. It also states that they are only removed when their needs cannot be met satisfactorily in that environment with supplementary aid and/or services (Hallahan, 1999). IDEA 97 – one of several updates made to the original IDEA – indicates the criteria for LRE is the general education curriculum. In order for LRE and FAPE to occur teachers and school officials need to design programs that will have meaningful access to typical curriculum for non-disabled students to the extent possible (Hallahan, 1999).
In brief, a FAPE affects other areas of education for students. Related services are part of FAPE. This is to ensure that a student who may need extra help will get it. IDEA defines related services as transportation, DIS counseling, partnership with outside departments (Department of Rehabilitation or a regional center), occupational therapy, interpreting services, one-on-one assistance, social work services, school nurse services, orientation and mobility services, and medical services (except for diagnostic or evaluation purposes only). This is merely a fraction of what related services are.
So, FAPE may be one of those terms mentioned often in special education. However, it may well be the one that everybody associated with special education needs to know. It is a goal and a law. It is what special education is all about, and it is the reason, educators cannot ignore the plight of the a student with special needs.
Hallahan,David P. ; Kauffman, James M.; and Lloyd, John W. (1999): Introduction to Learning Disabilities, 2nd edition. Allen & Bacon, Needham Heights, MA.
Yell, Mitchell L. (2006): The Law and Special Education, 2nd edition. Pearson Publishing, New Jersey.