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The Two Sides to Appropriate Under FAPE

Every child in the United States with or without disabilities is guaranteed the right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under federal education law. Federal education laws contain provisions for both children with disabilities and children without disabilities. All children are to be provided with a general education curriculum. A general education curriculum is the subject material that is presented and provided to children along with the associated skills they are expected to develop and apply, and includes: writing, reading, language arts, math, history, and science.

Under FAPE, the general education curriculum is to be provided to each child in such a way as to ensure that each and every child with or without disabilities receives both a free public education and an appropriate public education. Everyone agrees on what is meant by a free public education, however, parents and schools frequently disagree on what is meant by an appropriate public education.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines appropriate as being right or suitable; and fitting for a particular purpose, person, or occasion. Even with this definition, appropriate can still be interpreted differently. As parents, we often define an appropriate education as being the best education our child can get that maximizes his/her potential and opportunities. We also tend to focus only on our child and his/her unique educational needs. While the schools may understand a parent’s feelings, they must still follow federal education laws that state all children (with or without disabilities) are to be provided a general education curriculum and that FAPE is provided to every child in their school.

When parents and schools disagree on the meaning of "appropriate," communication between the two becomes very important. Schools explain an appropriate education as being a basic floor of opportunity that under IDEA guarantees an equal opportunity to all children, not the best possible education or a specific level of achievement. Disagreements between parents and schools on the meaning of "appropriate" can lead to very heated discussions to the point that both parties lose sight of the real reason they are having a discussion – to ensure the child’s unique educational needs are met and the child has an opportunity to grow and learn academically.

Parents need to keep in mind that appropriate is based upon their child’s IEP – this means that FAPE is determined on an individual basis, and upon the goals and objectives outlined in their child’s IEP. As long as the child is making progress based on their goals and objectives, the school will hold the position that FAPE is being met – even if the parents feel that their child is not making enough progress or could be doing better.

When disagreements over FAPE (and possibly the child’s progress) escalate to the point that both schools and parents have lost sight of the real reason they are meeting, an advocate can help parents. An effective advocate will help put the focus back on the child and getting his/her unique educational needs met.

One of the most important things an advocate will do in this situation is to help parents develop a strategy that includes flexibility and looking at the big picture. An advocate will help parents to be proactive and initiate a change rather than be reactive and simply react or respond to events and/or situations. It is often better to find a way to solve a problem so that the child gets the benefits of a modification, accommodation, and/or support rather than fighting back and forth and getting nothing from the school’s side as an adaptation or accommodation for the child.

An advocate can also help both parents and the school to understand each other’s point of view. This can be extremely helpful and get both parties to put the focus back on the child and what can be done to help the child succeed in school. Schools often feel that parents are asking for the sun, moon, and stars for their child, and when they see that the parents are offering suggestions and willing to be flexible, this often brings about more of a willingness on the school’s part to help parents help their child by including adaptations or accommodations that will benefit the child in making more progress towards the objectives and goals included in the IEP.

*NOTE* Additionally, in order for FAPE to be met, IDEA 2004 states that “the standards of the State Educational Agency must be met.”


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