What is FAPE and why is it important in regards to inclusion? According to the website ADA.gov, Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is an educational right of children with disabilities in the United States that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). What does that really mean? IDEA actually requires public schools to provide an education to all students regardless of the disability in the least restrictive environment that is appropriate for the student’s individual needs. That definition has been generalized to the extent that parents often expect their child to receive their education being fully included in a “general education” setting with all typical developed students. Don’t get me wrong I am a strong believer in inclusion. But inclusion for the sake of being included is not an effective use of time and resources being used in the education process of a student with special needs. (More on my beliefs about inclusion at another date)
According to the article by Laura McKenna, “Is the Bar too low for Special education?” dated January 24, 2017 in The Atlantic, special education in the United States is on the cusp of transformation. This transformation is sparked by court cases where parents are holding public schools accountable for a higher standard of education that is more equivalent to that of general education. Honestly, too many times, special education classrooms are dumping ground not only for students not being successful in general education but also old and outdated materials and supplies. This may not be the case in all special education classrooms, but all too often it is the “norm.” Public schools across the country must set standards for all students including students with special needs. The issue primarily comes to funding. One student with special needs utilizes staffing resources and financial resources equivalent to that of several typical developed students. A student with special needs may require special equipment for seating, staff with special training, such as licensed speech therapists and occupational therapists, special equipment for communication, such as a voice output device, and a paraprofessionals to monitor behavior and provide a safe environment above and beyond what the classroom teacher can provide. Schools in rural communities or low-income communities have a nearly impossible task of providing for the needs of all special education. There is no one size fits all when it comes to special education.
Now to add insult to injury, HR 610, which has been introduced under our new administration, will lead to even more changes. The verdict is still out if these changes will be beneficial to students with special needs, but the outlook is not hopeful. Even more money is going to be pulled from public schools and rerouted to private schools. In some communities this may be great for the students involved. My growing fear is public schools are going to be forced even more to balance their district budgets at the expense of students with special needs. For me, all of this sums up to be more stress, increased unrealistic expectations with less resources. How do you feel about FAPE and the changes to special education?