Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) Court Cases

Instructor: Michael Gott

Mike is a veteran of the New Hampshire public school system and has worked in grades 1-12. His role has varied from primary instructor to special needs support.

As part of the the Individuals with Disabilities Act passed by Congress in 1975 students with disabilities are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education(FAPE). When school districts deny students a FAPE families can take legal action.

Learning is a Legal Right of all Students

All students are legally entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education. This includes students who have been determined to have learning disabilities. Public schools have an obligation to provide an education to all students/children within the community. Sometimes parents and school districts disagree if the school is providing a free and appropriate education. In these situations courts step in to determine what services schools are legally obligated to provide.

Understanding FAPE

The first step to understanding FAPE Court cases is to understand FAPE, or Free and Appropriate Public Education. Let's break down the elements of FAPE. Firstly, families cannot be charged different amounts based on the resources a student/child needs in school in order to learn. The education provided to students must also be appropriate; this means that the supports and resources must be of the type that will help a student learn. Public means that this applies to public schools only. A private school is free to charge whatever they choose for services. Lastly we have education. It is not enough for a school to simply present a student with information, they must ensure the student is being educated.

Where Does FAPE come from?

The concept for a FAPE comes from the 1975 law called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Over time this law has evolved to become The Individuals with Disabilities Act or IDEA. Since 1975 this law has had two major goals. The first is to ensure the rights of children with disabilities are protected. The means that schools are obligated to educate special education students in the least restrictive manner possible. Students with disabilities cannot simply be placed away from the rest of the student body. The Second goal of IDEA is to give the parents of students with disabilities a voice in the education of their child. IDEA gives parents multiple opportunities to provide input on the educational decisions being made for their child. When parents and schools cannot agree on the best course of action for a student with disabilities it is up to the courts to decide.

Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson School District v. Amy Rowley

In June of 1982 the Supreme Court judged the case of Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson School District v. Amy Rowley . This case revolved around student Amy Rowley. Amy Rowley was deaf and performed better than most students in the classes in which she had an interpreter. Amy's parents argued that she should have an interpreter in all of the classes, because when she used a hearing aid while reading lips she often missed information. The school argued that they were meeting their legal obligation to Amy with the hearing aid, and speech therapy. Amy's parents sued the district and the case reached the Supreme Court.

Under Chief Justice Warren Burger, the court reached a verdict supporting the district's refusal to provide an interpreter to Amy Rowley. The court stated that the school was obligated to provide 'some educational benefit,' and not the 'best' possible educational services to students.

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