Having a free and appropriate education has been guaranteed in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). This has been termed “Free Appropriate Public Education” or FAPE. This is to be individualized to the case of each child that meet the needs of that specific child and provides what the child needs to be successful in school. These services are to be provided free; for example, children who are in need of an educational aide will not be charged for that aide’s wages.
To make sure the needs of the child are met, an IEP (individualized education plan/program) is created with the involvement of the child’s parents, teachers, and other key educational personnel (such as a school psychologist and the principal). This plan contains specific, attainable goals that should be met that school year. The IEP team may meet only once a school year or can meet more often when deemed necessary (if adjustments need to be made or if the IEP is not fulfilling the needs of the student). Anyone on the IEP (including parents) can call for the team to convene and discuss the situation.
Court cases in the past have ruled (Board of Education v. Rowley and Walczak v. Florida Union Free School District), however, that the education provided by the U.S. government for free does not have to be the best education possible â€” it only has to be an appropriate amount of education to help the child be adequately successful. For parents looking for the “best” education, finding a private school that caters to students with disabilities or hiring private instruction may be the best route.
Children with disabilities that are covered by IDEA are guaranteed help from birth to the age of 21. For more information on what laws protect these children, see IDEA 2004, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you believe your child’s disability is covered by IDEA, be sure to discuss this with your child’s school to see what can be done to helm him or her.