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FAPE: Let’s Talk About It


One of the biggest missed opportunities in special education is schools and parents not truly understanding what FAPE is, what it stands for, and how to ensure it is provided. So, what is FAPE per IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)?

  • To receive federal funds, states must assure the U.S. Department of Education that they have policies and procedures to ensure that all children with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education. Furthermore, children with disabilities suspended or expelled from school extend this. Professionals must administer evaluations in the child’s native language or mode of communication. “No single procedure shall be the sole criterion” for eligibility.

What does this mean?  There are four components to FAPE

  1. Free means that parents of children with disabilities cannot be charged for special education or related services in their program. 
  2. Appropriate means that the Individualized Education Program (IEP) prepared for your learners receiving special education services must meet their needs. It is also important to ensure the IEP considers your learners’ unique needs.
  3. Public means these rights apply to your learners because they attend a public school. Public schools must have safeguards in place. This means they must properly identify disabled learners via Child Find. They evaluate learners through a variety of thorough assessments. Then, they place learners in the least restrictive environment that can meet their needs for special education services (Special Note: This includes public charter schools and any schools that receive public funds to support learners with disabilities).
  4. Lastly, the E stands for Education. This means that local education agencies (LEAs) and federally funded programs must provide education and related services free to students with qualifying disabilities. 

Is FAPE Being Provided?

Now that you know what FAPE stands for, you’re probably wondering how to know if it is being provided. In my experience as a special education advocate, I’ve found that many schools and parents are unfamiliar with FAPE. Furthermore, many are also unfamiliar with how to ensure that schools provide it.

  • Are students with disabilities properly identified, evaluated, and placed? Firstly, public schools are responsible for properly identifying students with disabilities or those believed to have disabilities. They must also evaluate these students and determine the appropriate placement for those requiring special education and related services. They must create procedural safeguards to accomplish this and inform parents of these safeguards. This means parents must be notified of any evaluation or placement action.

Ensuring FAPE Rights: Disputes, IEP Development, and Parent Involvement

Parents have a right to dispute the school’s provision of FAPE in various ways. For example, actively participate in due process and be represented by legal counsel during a due process hearing.

  • Are special education services based on the student’s individual needs? The team must design services to meet the child’s individual needs and not base them solely on the student’s disability. Moreover, we can accomplish this by creating an IEP.
  • Are the student’s individual needs addressed in the IEP? This involves accurately evaluating the student to determine their individual needs, identifying those needs in the IEP, and clearly indicating the special education and related services the student will receive to address those needs.
  • Does the IEP provide for Supplementary Aids and Services? Supplementary aids and services can include accommodations, the curriculum, the method of instruction, the direct services being provided to the child, the support or training for staff who educate the child, and any other forms of support necessary to allow the student to access the general education curriculum that their non-disabled peers have access to.
  • Are all Supplementary Aids and Services provided for free? The school cannot pass the cost of the required supplementary aids and services on to the family. “Do I have to pay for that because I will.” You shouldn’t have to, nor does the law require you to!
  • Does the student have the same rights and privileges as other students? Students with disabilities must have access to the same opportunities. They must also have the same rights and privileges as students who do not have disabilities. Subsequently, this includes academic, nonacademic, and extracurricular activities. 
  • Does the IEP contain Annual Goals that address each area of need? The IEP is a living document; we expect students to progress toward their goals. The goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely, while the team should outline the services to help meet the goals. *Please see the IEP Goal Tracker form in PiP’s Special Education & EFMP Binder so you can track your student’s goals*
  • Is progress properly documented? Progress should be monitored and documented in the student’s educational record as part of Data Collection. Moreover, if the student does not progress adequately, the team may need to edit, modify, or re-evaluate the goals, services, or educational placement. Please see the Data Collection Forms we included in PiP’s Special Education & EFMP Binder so you can also provide data collected from home.
  • Does the IEP properly reflect the concerns of parents and others? The IEP should document the parental concerns and identify how the team will address them. Every IEP should have a section for Parent Inputs, but the name may vary by state. The IEP should also reflect the concerns of the IEP team members (i.e., teachers, psychologists, related service providers, etc.). *Please see the Parent Input Form for the IEP Meeting in PiP’s Special Education & EFMP Binder.*  Make sure you write a request to include the Parent Input Form in the student’s permanent educational record.

Denials of FAPE and Next Steps

Did you read the questions and think, “I don’t know if I’m doing that, “Is my school doing that?” or “Is my child being denied FAPE?” I’ve provided examples of the most common denials of FAPE I have come across as an advocate. I’ve also included what you can do if you think FAPE is being denied.

Denials of FAPE. (This list is NOT exhaustive)

  • Ignoring Child Find – not assessing a student suspected of a disability because the school states that it needs to implement “XYZ” because it is district policy, even though it is not compliant with state or federal law.
  • The school failed to provide services included in the student’s IEP.
  • Inappropriately assessing the student – not using multiple means of assessment and not conducting a comprehensive assessment, meaning they only assessed based on the disability they suspected the learner had.
  • Failing to provide the parent with a prior written notice regarding refusal and acceptance of requests.
  • Delaying the implementation of the IEP – not implementing until the following school year and going past the allotted timeline.
  • Developing inappropriate goals in the student’s IEP that the team did not reasonably calculate to enable the student to make progress appropriate in light of his or her unique circumstances.
  • A student fails to meet any of the goals stated in their IEP, and the school fails to adjust the IEP.

Next Steps. So, what can you do if you feel FAPE is being denied? 

  1. Download PiP’s free Special Education & EFMP Binder to review:
    1. PiP’s Bill of Rights and,
    2. Tab 11, Procedural Safeguards & Disputes.
  2. Email your child’s teacher or related service provider and discuss/document your concerns and possible solutions.
  3. Request an IEP meeting in writing, carbon copy the superintendent or the director of special education 
  4. Take part in mediation or other dispute resolution options detailed in Tab 11 of PiP’s Special Education & EFMP Binder.
    1. Consider all options, including intra-district transfer if appropriate
    2. Consult with Resources available
    3. Seek solutions with local, State, and DoD Agencies (including mediation)
    4. File complaints at various levels

FAPE ensures that our students with disabilities receive the educational services and support that federal law affords them in an educational system not built for them. Undoubtedly, as a parent/caregiver, you are the only constant in their lives. Furthermore, you have key knowledge about your child at the IEP table each time. Your advocacy is crucial because the military adds the added layer of frequently switching schools, districts, states, and even countries and continents. PiP is here to help! Make sure to download our free Special Education & EFMP Binder. It will guide you through the complex world of special education.

About the Author – Destiny Huff

Destiny is the proud wife of an Army Armor Officer and the former military brat of a Retired CSM who served 27 years in the U.S. Army. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapist, and Certified Supervisor who has worked with military service members and their families as a mental health professional.

Destiny received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Georgia Southern University and a Master of Science in Clinical-Counseling Psychology from Valdosta State University. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate in the General Psychology Program at Walden University, where her research focus is on using bibliotherapy as a clinical strategy to address the unique challenges that military children face.   

In 2022, Destiny received a crash course in special education and IEPs when her oldest son was diagnosed with Autism. After advocating early on for her youngest son, who has a Speech Delay, she learned the importance of having to advocate in the school setting. Destiny became a Special Education Parent Advocate and Master IEP Coach to help other families advocate for their children and prevent them from going through what her family went through.

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