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What is an ‘appropriate education’?

Federal law protects the education rights of students with disabilities. Among the rights it gives such students is the right to a “free appropriate public education.”

Given that this right sets what the minimum level of education is that schools are to give special needs students, what an “appropriate education” is is a very impactful issue. However, it is currently an issue that is in a bit of a gray area. Purportedly, there have been differences among the different federal appeals courts regarding what exactly a school has to do to meet this requirement. There could, however, soon be some greater clarity on this issue.

This is because the issue of what an “appropriate education” is is one of the central ones in a case the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear.

The case involves a dispute between a school district and the parents of an autistic child. The dispute is over whether the school district should pay reimbursement for private schooling the child received. When a public school is unable to provide a student with special needs with a “free appropriate public education”, one of the things federal law allows is for the child to receive a private school education with reimbursement. So, the case centers on whether or not a “free appropriate public education” was made available to the child.

It is thought that the Supreme Court’s decision in this case could settle the federal appeals court differences in the interpretation of what exact level of education the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gives students with learning disabilities a right to. Given how much federal standards can influence the conduct of schools, what the court ultimately decides could have significant impacts on special education students throughout the country. So, this case could have some major special education ramifications, and is one parents of special needs students may want to keep an eye on.

What level of education do you think public schools should be required to provide special needs students?

Source: U.S. News & World Report, “Supreme Court says it will hear special education case,” Sept. 29, 2016

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