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A message for parents of children with disabilities

The recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Free Appropriate Public Education just sent a welcome message for parents of children with disabilities: Your child must be given the opportunity to make significant progress in their learning environment—and not be passed along from year to year without real improvement.

But many parents are still trying to find their way around the school, the available programs and their children’s needs. Here’s a primer to get you started if you’re one of those parents.

Free Appropriate Public Education

Often referred to as FAPE, Free Appropriate Public Education describes the educational rights of children with disabilities in the U.S. Guaranteed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, it requires school districts to provide a free and appropriate education to students with disabilities—no matter the nature or how severe the disability.

Individualized Education Program

Pretty much universally referred to an IEP, it is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. If your child has difficulty learning and functioning, you may request that your child be evaluated for special education and related services. Typical candidates for an IEP include students with:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Emotional disorders
  • Cognitive challenges
  • Autism
  • Hearing impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Developmental delay
  • Physical disabilities

My child has an IEP, but isn’t progressing

This common complaint is what led to the Supreme Court ruling. The case involved a boy with autism who attended public school from kindergarten through fourth grade. The boy’s father rejected the school’s proposed IEP for the upcoming fifth grade because it was essentially the same IEP under which their child’s academic and functional progress had stalled. They moved their son to a private school where he thrived. The parent’s sought tuition reimbursement from the district for the private school because they believed they were entitled to a free appropriate public education. The Supreme Court agreed.

How to advocate for your child

If there are issues with your child’s progress under their IEP, you have every right as a parent to discuss your concerns with the members of the IEP team and attempt to work out an agreement. Beyond that, you have several options that include additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation or a due process hearing. Parents may consider hiring an attorney specializing in special education to work collaboratively with the school and focus objectively on what your child needs.

The good news from the Supreme Court’s message is now you have legal standing to expect more than the minimum educational goals for your child. Your child should be ensured educational progress as both the goal and the outcome.

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