FAPE — Free and Appropriate Education
As a parent, you naturally want what is best for your child. You want your child to receive the best education possible; your goal is to maximize his learning potential. You may have a specific program or therapy in mind that you think your child needs. However, the law does not require that school administrators provide the best possible interventions for your child; rather, the law requires only that the school provide your child with a “free and appropriate education” — commonly designated as FAPE.
FAPE means that the school is required to provide individualized instruction with sufficient support services to enable your child to benefit educationally from the instruction. In other words, the school must provide the minimal level of support that is adequate to allow your child to learn. The Supreme Court has held that this standard is met with services that are reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.
Many children with dyslexia are extremely bright, and often their pattern of weaknesses and strengths leaves them highly functional in many areas, even though they struggle in others. For example, your child may read very slowly, but with excellent comprehension, and she may have a strong ability to retain information learned from oral instruction and class demonstrations. Through hard work and determination, your child may be able to keep up in class and generally earn B's and C's in classwork. With such a child, you may find it difficult to qualify for school services, even with a diagnosis of dyslexia — the school may take the position that the dyslexia is mild and does not affect her ability to learn.
Dyslexia is as likely to be found among gifted children as any other group, but the IDEA does not provide for services for giftedness. However, 9 states — Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia — currently require IEPs for gifted students. In these states, FAPE may be construed to include enhanced educational goals via an accelerated and enriched curriculum.
Even if your child does qualify, you may find that the services offered are not adequate. Through formal testing or your own observations, you may realize that your child is intellectually gifted and capable of learning at an accelerated pace, if only the reading barrier were addressed. You will want to find a corrective approach to dyslexia — one that is geared to eliminating barriers and employs a fast-paced instructional methodology — but the school will see its obligation to be far more limited in scope. In fact, if your child does receive special education services, you may find that as soon as he progresses to what you consider to be a level of minimal proficiency, the services are withdrawn.
You can't change the law, but understanding the concept of FAPE will help you know how to frame your arguments when dealing with school authorities. Use language like “appropriate” and “adequate” when asking for services, and highlight your child's weakest skill areas. For example, if your child is earning B's in the regular fourth-grade classroom, but standardized tests show that he is reading on a first-grade level, work toward an IEP that will specify efforts to be taken to help him learn to read at grade level. Do not let your child's strong compensation skills overshadow his need for specific remediation in areas of weakness.