The public school system is required to provide every child with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Education specifications are determined once the teacher has defined their students' needs and determine where they are best able to have them met.
FAPE (education mandate also known as a Free and Appropriate Public Education) was initially mandated by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in Section 504. However, more details can be found later in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It explains that all students with disabilities have the right to be educated, without cost, in the public school system. In addition, the setting of the student’s education should not be determined by what disability they have, but where the educational needs of the student will best be met. FAPE education covers any student that is of school age and is defined as having a disability according to the IDEA.
Defining Individual Needs
FAPE education can not solely be determined based on a disability. For example, a child cannot be placed in a classroom for kids with Autism just because they have that diagnosis. Individuals with disabilities must have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that is developed by an educational team made up of the student, parents, teachers and anyone else that has a stake in that individual’s education. The IEP will define exactly what the student’s educational goals are and how they will be met in addition to explaining what the student’s current abilities are and what types of supports are required. Each year, the IEP will be updated to redefine the student’s current educational needs based on progress or the lack of progress.
Once an IEP is developed, it becomes easier to figure out where the student with a disability will best be able to receive FAPE. Education in he least restrictive environment that will meet the needs of the student should be chosen. When possible, this should include being educated in the same setting with peers that do not have disabilities and providing supports for the student to be successful. Supports can range from having an aide that helps the student through the day or something much simpler such as extra time on tests. In some cases, students are better able to meet educational goals in different settings. When this happens it is important to make every attempt to have interactions with peers and school situations in age appropriate ways. For example, students in a class for children with severe disabilities can still eat lunch in the cafeteria and attend school assemblies.
When the needs of a student with disabilities cannot be met in the public school system that they are a part of, that system must find an appropriate place to meet educational goals. If this involves attending a private school, the student will do so at the cost of the school system and not of the child’s family.If the school system has an appropriate placement for the student, but the family chooses to take a different route, the school system is no longer financial obligated to pay for the alternative setting.