The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees the right to a free and appropriate public education to all students with disabilities who qualify for special education services.

What is a free and appropriate public education?

Free—”without charge” to parents or children;

Appropriate—”in keeping with an individualized education program”

Public—”at public expense, under public supervision and direction”

Education—”preschool, elementary.. .or secondary school…”

How is FAPE defined?

IDEA defines FAPE  as follows:

§300.17 Free appropriate public education

Free appropriate public education or FAPE means special education and related services that—

(a) Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;

(b) Meet the standards of the SEA, including the requirements of this part;

(c) Include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and

(d) Are provided in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP) that meets the requirements of §§300.320 through 300.324.

What does “appropriate” really mean?

“Appropriate” is an important term in special education law, used in different contexts but generally meaning the same thing. It means whatever is suitable, fitting, or right for a specific child, given that child’s specific needs, specific strengths, established goals, and the supports and services that will be provided to help the child reach those goals. So an “appropriate” education differs for each child with a disability because it is based on their individual needs. 

More information:

Remember the purpose of special education…

The purpose of special education is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a “free and appropriate public education” that emphasizes special education and related services “designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living”. Special education services are provided at no cost to the parents and must be provided in the “least restrictive environment”.

Special education is instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. This means education that is individually developed to address a specific child’s needs that result from his or her disability. Each child is unique,so special education is individualized for each child.

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