Greatra Mayana

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IDEA Basics: Free and Appropriate Public Education


[MUSIC PLAYING] If you’ve been researching your
child’s rights, you’re probably coming across
a term called FAPE, F-A-P-E, a whole lot. And you’re probably wondering
what it is, so we’re here to tell you. FAPE is a Free and Appropriate
Public Education, and it is the cornerstone of the IDEA,
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. FAPE is what each child who’s
identified for special education services is entitled
to every school year. Let’s break down FAPE into all
of the letters, and what all of those words stand for. So, let’s start with free. What does that mean? Free means at no cost. That’s the language
of the statute. Free means that parents of
children who have special education needs should not have
to be paying for their child to receive the public
education to which they’re entitled, just as their
counterparts are not. So, the whole idea being that
the IDEA is really civil rights law. And why should parents of
children who have disabilities be paying for their kids to have
an education when parents of children who do not have
disabilities don’t have to pay for public education? You know what I always say to
people is, imagine two kids getting on a school bus who live
across the street from each other. One child is a typically
developing child who’s in regular education, and the other
child is a child who has a disability, who is receiving
an individualized education plan under IDEA, the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act. The child who’s in regular
education who does not have a disability, their parents do
not pay for them to receive their public education. So, in fact, if the child who
lives across the street has to pay for their education,
they’re actually being discriminated against. They’re being held to a
different standard, which is why it’s so important to
remember that your child’s special education should, in
theory, be of no cost to you. That’s right, and so that’s
why there’s the free and appropriate public education. Let’s get to appropriate,
because that’s really– Appropriate’s much more
nebulous than free. And the reason it is is that
what’s appropriate too me may not be what’s appropriate
to you. You may think something’s
appropriate and the school district may not think
it’s appropriate. So, with a word like
appropriate, how does anyone know whether or not their child
is receiving the program that they’re legally
entitled to? The word has been interpreted
by many courts over many years, and it varies somewhat
depending on where you live because of our system
of government. So, if you live in one circuit,
they may have slightly different language. But the bottom line is that,
when the IDEA was passed, the whole idea was really just to
get kids with disabilities access to our public schools. That was 1975, thankfully we’ve
moved beyond that, and we’ve moved to the place where
we want children to get meaningful educational benefit
from their program. And so the standard is higher,
and I would argue the standard is getting higher and higher
every time the IDEA is reauthorized by Congress. So, whether a program is
appropriate depends on the individual child’s needs. The unique needs of each child
are going to be different, and one would hope that the IEP, the
Individualized Education Program, would reflect that. And so when an IEP team, or a–
unfortunately when I get involved– a hearing officer
or court are trying to determine whether or not that
document, that program actually gives the child the
appropriate program, they’re going to look at a
lot of factors. They’re going to look at
the child’s potential. They’re going to look at whether
or not this particular child needs more in this area
of academic support, whereas another child might need
more functional skills. So, it just depends
on the kid. And what makes it appropriate,
there are so many factors involved in that. And it’s a word that’s open
for interpretation. And that’s where I come
in very often. Yes, right. So, public. Public versus a private school
that you might go and pay for privately because you’ve decided
to opt out of the public education system. But what else can you say
about the word public? So, this is where it gets tricky
again, because just as we talked about free, it
should be at no cost to parents, public does not always
mean public when you get into special education law
and you analyze the cases. And the reason I say that is,
there are a number of cases where a parent doesn’t agree
with the public school program offered by their school
district. And they have made something
called a unilateral placement where they place their child
in a private school program and then they exercise their
rights under the IDEA to have the public funds pay for
the private school. Now, that is not the norm. I would say that that’s where
a parent has tried very hard to keep their child, usually, in
the public school, and it’s not working. But in general, special
education services are provided and are supposed
to be provided in the public schools. It doesn’t always happen that
way, but that’s the preference. And education. Education. So, you and I say this every
single day of our lives. Education is more than
just academics. This is so important to
understand because so often, when I’m representing a parent,
the dispute is about the school district not wanting
to recognize issues that, perhaps, the
average person doesn’t see as education. And that includes a lot of my
parent clients who, they don’t understand that what they’re
looking for is actually part of education. So, the school district may be
saying, well your child is on grade level in reading
and math and their education is just fine. But if the child can’t interact
with their peers or have any daily living skills
that allows them to be a functional member of society,
that too is education. And the IDEA is quite clear
about this, that education includes adaptive and
functional skills. And, unfortunately, despite the
fact that that’s in the law, I still have to remind
school districts of it almost every day. And what we hear all
the time– and perhaps you have too– that your child may
be too smart to qualify for special education. And in fact, that’s one of
those things that just completely gets under my skin,
and that I often have to remind teams of. That education is far
more than academics. It’s social skills, its
behavior, it’s communication, it’s emotional, it’s, perhaps,
physical therapy, speech and language services, occupational
therapy services. So, it’s not just what kind of
grades, your child is getting. And that’s just so important
to know. And in fact, I’m often brought
into those disputes because kids who are very intelligent,
their, sometimes, are the last kids to be identified
because they slipped through the cracks. Because they’re not obviously
suffering in the classroom. They may not be learning, but
they’re not obviously suffering in some way that
triggers all the adults to realize it. A lot of my clients have
emotional disabilities, and so school districts say, well,
look at this kid. When she’s here, she
gets straight A’s, she’s very smart. And I say, yeah but she’s
been here nine days this school year. That’s adversely impacting
the education. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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