FAPE stands for Free and Appropriate Public Education. Under United States law, students with disabilities ages three to twenty-one are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education. What does this mean?
Free: Like any other public school student, students with disabilities do not have to pay for their education
Appropriate: The education provided must be appropriate for the needs of the student with disabilities. Note that this says “appropriate,” NOT “best.” This is the tricky part. All the school has to do is prove they have provided adequately for the student’s needs as established by the goals written as a result of their assessments. Even though the “best” thing for a student with hearing loss might be to have private Auditory-Verbal Therapy sessions with a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist and family members in attendance, the school can argue that group therapy with a Speech-Language Pathologist with little to no experience with listening and spoken language is still “appropriate.” See my articles on IEPs and IEP Advocacy and Educational Consulting Services page for assistance.
Public: Children with disabilities have a right to attend public schools alongside their typically developing peers. Occasionally, if a public school cannot meet the needs of a child, they will contract with a private or nonprofit organization, but the public school will foot the bill. For example, some school districts contract with nonprofit auditory-oral schools and the public school pays tuition so that students with hearing loss can attend these specialized programs.