FAPE: What is appropriate, anyway?

By Hillary D. Freeman, Esq.

School districts in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania are required to develop and implement a method to locate, identify, and evaluate children with disabilities that need special education or any related services. This includes homeless children as well as children in private schools. 34 C.F.R. § 300.11.

Once this process has been completed and the student is deemed eligible for such services, an IEP meeting is convened to develop an individualized education program that offers the student a "free, appropriate public education"("FAPE") in the least restrictive environment ("LRE").

  • FAPE refers to educational instruction that:
  • Is designed to meet the unique needs of the child with disabilities socially, emotionally, and academically (known as "special education");
  • Must be supported by services that are necessary to permit the child to benefit from the instruction (known as related services"); and
  • Must be provided by or paid for by the local school district, with no extra charge to the student or the family.

This individualized instruction must be delivered to the student in the "least restrictive environment" that is appropriate for that particular student's unique learning needs. The least possible restrictive placement is the regular classroom, without any supportive services. The most restrictive is a residential placement, where the child is educated in the facility where the child lives. In between, special education programs vary from inclusion classes, resource rooms, self-contained classrooms, and out-of-district placements.

Since all students learn differently, the LRE varies. The IEP team must consider a continuum of placements to ensure that the student is educated in a placement that addresses his or her learning needs. When a child with a disability can meaningfully benefit from the instruction in a regular education class with or without supplemental aids and services, the student shall not be removed from the regular classroom. On the other hand, when the student's needs cannot be met with in regular classes, the IEP team shall consider placing the child in one or another of environments based on the nature and degree of the intervention required.

When there is a disagreement regarding whether the IEP offers FAPE in the LRE, parents may first attempt to resolve the disagreement by requesting additional IEP meetings to discuss their concerns. If these additional attempts are unsuccessful, parents may file a Petition for Mediation and Due Process to address the issues in the IEP with the hopes of reaching a resolution in a more neutral forum.

See " Stay Put in Special Education" for additional information regarding Due Process protections.

Contact Freeman Law Offices, LLC today by calling (609) 454-5609 or the "Contact Us" form to learn whether your child is receiving an appropriate education.

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