What on Earth is a FAPE in an LRE as Mandated by the IDEA?!?

EV's Education Corner

What on Earth is a FAPE in an LRE as mandated by the IDEA?!?

The world of special needs and special education is complex, scary, and often overwhelming. In addition to having to readjust your expectations for how your family’s life will be, you also need to learn a whole new language! In the next series of articles, I will attempt to put together a primer of sorts to introduce some often-used terms. Below are terms that have to do primarily with school-based education.

IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. Children are covered under this law from birth to age 18 or 21. Under an amendment to the original Act, the students must be prepared for further education or employment, and independent living. At the time the law was enacted, approximately 4.5 million children were not being provided any sort of effective instruction. Children with diagnoses such as blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, and “mentally retarded” were specifically excluded from attending any type of public school.

Eligibility for Services: Having a disability does not necessarily mean that a student qualifies for special education services. There has to be a need for additional or different approaches to education in order for that child to participate in school in a manner similar to his/her typically developing peers. Students with the following diagnoses who, because of their condition need special education and related services, are covered under the IDEA:

  • Intellectual Disability

  • Hearing Impairments (including deafness)

  • Speech or language Impairments

  • Visual Impairments (including blindness)

  • Serious Emotional Disturbance

  • Orthopedic Impairments

  • Autism

  • Traumatic Brain Injury

  • Other Health Impairments (OHI)

  • Specific Learning Disabilities (LD)

Subsequent court rulings have added that even if a student is completely incapable of learning, for example the child is unconscious or in a coma, the school is still required to provide educational services to the child.

IEP: The IEP specifies is a formal document, developed by the IEP team, that outlines the student’s current levels of performance, states how disabilities affect academic performance, and lists accommodations, modifications, and services that will be needed to provide the child with an appropriate education. The IEP team consists of such school system personnel as the principal, teacher(s), speech therapist, psychologist, and special education teacher. It also includes, most importantly, the parents/guardians! You have the legal right to be invited to (in writing) and to attend your child’s IEP meetings.

Often the most important part of an IEP is the number and kind of hours and services that are provided to the student. Additionally, accommodations and modifications can be crucial to a successful school experience. Most people understand the concept of one-on-one instruction with a special educator, but that is not the limit of what can be provided.

Other Related Services: Other Related Services include things such as Occupational Therapy (for fine motor skill development and to help with sensory processing issues), Physical Therapy (for gross motor skill development – in school specifically to help the student navigate the environment), Speech and Language Therapy (articulation, processing issues, dyslexia), and psychological services. Other services are audiology, teaching of Braille, school health services, parent training, music therapy, therapeutic recreation, and social work services. Often these services are as important, if not more, to the success of the student in a public school environment.

FAPE: A Free and Appropriate Public Education is the goal of IDEA and the writing of a useful IEP. The education provided must provide what the student needs and allow the student to receive educational benefit (the child must not simply be sitting in a room without accessing the same education as the other students). The special education and related services provided must meet the student’s unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. It is important to keep in mind, however, that a FAPE does not have to be the best possible education the child could receive. “Appropriate” does not mean perfect, unfortunately.

LRE: The goal of IDEA is that the education of the student be provided in the Least Restrictive Environment. The most ideal environment, according to this goal, is one in which the disabled student is solely educated in a classroom with typically developing students with supports and services provided within that context. The next step down is providing those supports and services both within and outside the typical classroom. Another step down is a special needs only classroom (self-contained) that contains only special needs students but that is co-located with a regular school and allows for interaction between the other students and the special needs students. After that level is a special school in which all of the students have disabilities. Lastly, there are students who are not able to attend school at all and who need to be instructed at home, in the hospital, or in another location. Those students are still the responsibility of the public school system.

504 Plan: Students who have disabilities that do not require an IEP are automatically protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Section 504 dictates that no child may be excluded from participation in educational programs solely because of his or her disability. The people covered under this include children between the ages of three and twenty-two who have a disability that causes limitations to one or more major life activities and that substantially reduces a student’s ability to access learning in an educational setting. The kinds of disabilities included are diabetes, epilepsy, allergies, heart disease, and chronic illness. Accommodations that can be provided under a 504 Plan can include things such as visual aids, enlarged print, an extra set of textbooks for home use, taping lectures, oral tests, preferred seating, computer-aided instruction, positive reinforcements, and behavior intervention plans.

The above is merely a small sampling of the kinds of language used in the world of special education. Please check this column for future explanations of the many strange phrases, acronyms, and words of our lives.

E.V. Downey is the principal educational consultant at Downey School Consulting, where she consults on public, charter, private, and special needs school choices and issues. She started consulting after years of teaching kids of all ages and working in private school administration. A graduate of DC Public Schools, E.V. lives on Capitol Hill with her husband and 2 children.


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