#1. I have seen the term “FAPE” used in the laws and school personnel have used the term in conversations with me. What does FAPE mean?

According to IDEA 300.17, “FAPE” means: “Special Education and related services that –

(a) Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction without charge; (b) Meet the standards of the SEA (State Educational Agency), including requirements of this part; (c) Include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the state involved; and (d) Are provided in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP) that meets the requirements of 300.320-300.324.”

In other words, the district or Local Education Association (LEA) as you will see in the laws, is responsible for providing your child with a Free, that means at no cost to you, all supplies needed for evaluation, education, the teachers, the tutors, counselors, nurses, etc must be provided for your child without you incurring any costs. The LEA is given money by the state and federal governments to educate your child, you should never have to give money to the district for this to occur. Also they are to provide items needed for the child to do their homework as well. This means that if your child is blind, they need to provide the Brailler at home so that your child can do his homework, as well as the Braille paper, etc. “Appropriate” means that the education that they require should be appropriate for their disability. That means that an evaluation should be done so as to ascertain what the child needs before an IEP is administered. It also means that the district must provide free of charge, an appropriate preschool, elementary and secondary school. “Public” means that they are to receive education along with other school children and not in a sheltered environment for disabled students only away from other non-disabled children. The public education system receives money to educate your child along with the other children in your neighborhood. Therefore your child’s education should not cost you anything, it should be appropriate for his disability, and occur in the public education system that your children would attend if they were not disabled. To see the law on this go to the IDEA Regulations page 220 in the pdf or page 46758 of the Federal Register.

#2. What is a Multi-Factored Evaluation (MFE), and what does it entail?

A MFE by IDEA definition is “Evaluation means procedures used in accordance with 300.304 through 300.311 to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and related services that the child needs.” 300.15.

A MFE is a thorough evaluation that will assess the abilities and needs of a child in an accurate and thorough manner. The evaluation must consist of several areas. Those areas need to include the following:

Psychological (Abilities, such as IQ tests.)
Academic (Math, Reading, Writing, etc.)
Vision (This should include not only the eye chart but also visual perception, processing, fields, etc.)
Fine Motor (This should entail how they write, handle a pencil, use scissors, grasp, etc.)
Gross Motor (This should entail how they walk, run, jump, compete with other kids their age, climb, etc.)
Auditory (This needs to be more than just a tone test. They need to assess how they hear in noisy environments (discrimination) and how they process the sounds they hear (processing).)
Social-Emotional Status (How they get along with their peers and teachers.)
Communicative Status, also known as Speech and Language (This area should not only include oral structures but how they use language, such as semantics, morphology, pragmatics, etc.)
Functional Behavior Assessment (If behavior is an issue.)

All these areas must be assessed according to law (See IDEA Regulations 300.304(c)(4) page 247 or 46785.) In addition to these evaluations they must be administered by the appropriate personnel. That means that the Fine Motor section cannot be administered by a teacher, it should be administered by an Occupational Therapist who is familiar with the functions of the muscles in the hands and the disabilities that can effect them and their functions. Gross motor should be done by a Physical Therapist, communicative status by a Speech and Language Therapist, etc. If these are not completed by the professionals in the specialized areas, the evaluation will not be accurate. IDEA dictates that the evaluations be administered by “trained and knowledgeable personnel”. The evaluation must be comprehensive enough to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs…”300.304 (c)(6)page 247 or 46785.

Also the evaluation has to use a variety of assessment tools. Not one tool can be used to evaluate the student for all areas. Also the tools have to be technically sound instruments to assess the child. The instrument cannot be administered as to discriminate on a racial or cultural basis.

If you are having an MFE to determine if a child has a disability for an initial evaluation and the evaluation has found and area of disability you will need to formulate an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) form the information you collected in the MFE, so it must be a good diagnostic tool so that you can formulate an appropriate IEP. Once the disability is established a MFE should be repeated at least every 3 years, by law, or as requested by parent or teacher if something changes, for example health, learning environment, etc. A parent may request a new MFE at any time, but do so in writing so you have your “paper trail” to prove you asked for it and when.

MFEs must be done within certain time limits. Different States have different time limits. Go to LINK to find what your states’ requirement is. In Ohio, it is within 60 days from the time the parent signs the letter or the permission to evaluate; whichever comes first.

#3. If I have asked for a MFE and the school district will not do a MFE, can I make them do it or do I need to have it done outside of the school?

Yes, you can make the district do the MFE. First you must always put every request in writing and address it to the Special Education Director by name if possible. Once a request is in writing they cannot refuse since you are covered by IDEA and 504 on this request. Some districts do not do good evaluations, and to make sure that they do you must ensure that the people doing the evaluation are qualified to do that, meaning that they must have a degree in that area, for example, to do the fine motor evaluation they must be licensed in Occupational Therapy, to do gross motor they must be licensed in Physical Therapy, etc.

They must also hit all the areas covered in question number 2, especially if this is an initial evaluation to determine the presence of a disability. When you write your letter to the director of special education you should write, “I understand that under the laws of IDEA and 504 my child is entitled to a Multi-Factored Evaluation at no cost to me and that evaluation should cover the areas of (See question 2)…..” If you wish to quote the specific law and number you should quote 34 CFR 300.304.

Now, if the schools evaluation comes back and it is deficient in several areas and you don’t agree with it, you have the right to request what is called an “Independent Educational Evaluation” or IEE. With an IEE the school district cannot limit the pool of evaluators. In other words they cannot tell you that you can only see one IEE. They must give you a large list of evaluators for you to choose from. If I were you I would check this list out and make sure they are evaluators that have a respected reputation in the community. Many times the district will try to give you the cheapest evaluator which isn’t always the best, to cut their costs.

Always remember that the district gets money to do the evaluations and to serve your child so don’t let them tell you they have no funds to do an evaluation. They receive state and federal monies to do this. If they do give you that excuse all you have to say is, “That is not my problem, if you need more money you need to ask the state government for it.” This will usually make them stop using excuses. If they pursue this tactic then tell them you know that by IDEA and 504 they receive monies to do this type of testing and to serve your child with a disability.

Each child receives his own funds. If you want to see the laws associated with Independent Evaluation go to CFR 300.502 in IDEA. If you still are not happy with the evaluation that the school does and your insurance pays for it, usually the children’s hospital in the area will do a pretty good MFE for your child. You must make sure that they also use qualified personnel to administer the evaluation and are accurate. Sometimes it is nice to have one done by the school and one done by the physician to see how they compare. Usually the one done by the prescribing physician is more accurate, at least in Ohio this is true. Also in Ohio we have what are called Regional Centers that will also do testing, but again beware! Many of them do deficient testing by unqualified personnel.

#4. What is an “Independent Educational Evaluation”?

IDEA defines Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) as “an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question” at public expense, which means the school has to pay for it. This definition comes straight from IDEA CFR 34 300.502.

If the parents disagree with the district’s own evaluation they may request that the district do an IEE, always in writing. The public agency or district must then provide to the parents information about where an IEE may be obtained and the agency criteria for the IEE. The IEE examiner must be qualified to administer the evaluation, and the IEE must be paid for by the district. The district may ask why you are requesting an IEE and all you need to say or put in writing is because you disagree with the evaluation they provided you.

You may disagree because it was not done by the properly qualified personnel or it wasn’t administered correctly or that you doubt the accuracy of the evaluation. You may only have one IEE at public expense, so make sure you choose the best examiner. If the parent had an IEE done at their expense and they share the results with the district the district, must “consider” the results of the evaluation when the material is presented to them for examination.

Now in Ohio, many districts feel that they do not have to use a private IEE as basis for an IEP, but if you have a good basis from a qualified examiner you must fight to get the goals on the IEP that this IEE supports. If your district refuses to use the information you provide to them, you may file a complaint with your state education agency to get the district to consider your IEE. IEE are also done for evidence in Due Process proceedings, usually requested by the hearing officers. In this case it must also be paid for by the district.

To see the specific law on IEE go to IDEA Regulations page 46791-46792 of the register or page 253-254 of the PDF file.

#5. What is a 504 plan?

504 is a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination of individuals of the basis of disability. Section 504 of the act deals with education as well as other areas of public facilities, such as the post office. 504 prohibits discrimination of children who are disabled attending public school systems.

With IDEA, a child with a disability after identification of such, is placed on an Individualized Education Plan IEP, which clearly states the disability, the present levels of that disability, the annual goal and the short term goals to overcome or cope with that disability. There is a formalized plan that is agreed upon by the district and parents and it is signed every year as a new one has to be developed on a yearly basis.

The 504 plan is not used as often as an IEP but can be broader than an IEP. The 504 plan will address accommodations, modifications, goals, behavior and any thing else that is a concern to the child, including medical accommodations. For children who do not meet the criteria required for an IEP, the 504 is the perfect solution. The 504 plan also should be revisited on a yearly basis at least and sooner if problems arise that need to be dealt with. In appearance the 504 plan is usually simpler in appearance but has the same components as the IEP. It should have present levels of performance, goals, accommodations, who is responsible for the goal, the date to begin and end and the date to review. A sample 504 Plan can be seen in the “Sample Documents” section of this website.

The Office of Civil Rights is the agency that oversees discrimination of the 504 plan, so if a conflict arises with the district the complaint should be addressed to the Office of Civil Rights. To see this law go to 34 C.F.R Part 104.

#6. If the school district my child attends determines that my child does not qualify for an IEP or a 504 plan, but they still need help, what do I do?

First of all, if your child has been diagnosed with a disability and is having difficulty in school and not able to keep up with the other children his/her age, then your child deserves a FAPE. If the school refuses to educate your child after you have given them the doctor’s diagnosis and clear written proof of his/her inability to succeed in school then you have a basis for a complaint.

Each state has their own procedures for a complaint management system. The best way to find out what your complaint system is, is to go to the website for your state department of education and look for the section for disabled students, under that section should be instructions on how to file a complaint against your school district. If there isn’t then you need to call the state’s special education department and request that they tell you how to file a formal complaint against your school district. In Ohio there are forms that we fill out to file a complaint against our school districts. Once these complaints are filed in writing the state department only has 60 days to determine if your district is at fault with not providing your child a FAPE.

IF they are found at fault the state will issue a “letter of finding” telling the district that they are at fault and they will instruct them as to what they must do to resolve the issue. If the district does not do what the state directs them to do they can be fined by the state or their state funds revoked. Districts do not like this course of action and will generally do everything possible to settle a dispute if this action is taken.

Sometimes all the parent has to do is to threaten to file a complaint with the state government and the district will then start to identify and serve the struggling child. However there are those districts that have to be taken to task to prove you are serious. Filing a complaint is fairly easy and if you don’t understand the forms, just writing a letter to the state department about what the district is refusing to do can serve as your formal complaint.

REMEMBER, districts do not have to act on oral complaints, only formal written complaints. So always put your complaints in writing! You can see an example of a complaint in the “Sample Documents” section of this website. Also if your state education department refuses to act on your complaint you can file a complaint with the US Department of Education against your state for refusing to obtain the FAPE that your child deserves.

The address for this complaint should be sent to:

Office of Special Education Programs
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington D.C. 20202

If you want to call them, call 1-202-245-7459.

#7. What kinds of programs or accommodations can I expect to receive from my school district for my disabled child?

A school district is obligated by law (IDEA, 504, ADA, etc.) to serve your child in what ever capacity he or she needs to be served in order to make them a successful student. This will vary with each child depending on his disability but I can give a few examples. For a child who has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder he may receive preferential seating (seated close to teacher), tests taken in a smaller quieter environment, a study buddy, prompts to get back on track, like a tap on the shoulder or a signal the teacher will have that only the child will recognize.

For a child that is visually impaired, services would include mobility instruction, Braille instruction, adaptive physical education, braillers supplied at home and at school along with the special paper and writing devices. For the deaf child, services would include sign instruction, mobility instruction, safety instruction, FM systems if required.

For the learning disabled student, the child may receive specialized instruction in a smaller classroom, private instruction if needed, tests read to them, for state testing they need all the accommodations that they would have on their IEP including special quieter rooms for testing and instructions read to them.

For those with physical disabilities, they may require the use of a chair lift or elevator, special pencils, or writing equipment, communication devices, special physical education adaptations, magnifiers for text, amplification magnification, nurses for doing tube feedings, catheterizations, injections, etc.

Many children are served in smaller classrooms called Resource Rooms where there is to be no more than 12 students to one teacher. If children cannot learn in any other way, sometimes private tutors are required. For some children that are medically fragile tutors will be sent to the homes for home instruction, not to be confused with home schooling! Home instruction is a special educator sent to the child’s home or hospital or nursing home to provide the lessons that they are missing out on during their recuperation or medical interventions at no cost to the parent.

Sometimes children need surgeries to correct problems with muscles, nerves or tendons. In these instances the school is responsible for seeing to it that the child does not fall behind in their education while they are recuperating. If a child is being bullied, it is the responsibility of the school to ensure that the child is free from this distraction. There are strict anti-harassment laws now in place for this and the district has the responsibility to ensure the child’s safety in his educational setting.

All of these and more can be included on an IEP or 504 plan. The evaluation will dictate what types of accommodations and services the child will qualify for. If the child needs fine motor improvement as found in the MFE then he should receive the services of an occupational therapist for this deficiency. If the child has trouble communicating then a Speech and Language therapist would be hired to teach the child to speak or communicate effectively.

In other words, whatever your child needs to be successful in school the district, is under the legal obligation to provide. Services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, adaptive physical education, etc are all called “Related Services” and are written in the law as such. Transportation of the child to and from the services is also a related service.

To see more about Related Services go to IDEA Regulations page 22 in the PDF or page 46760 in IDEA.

#8. What is an IEP?

An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan which is developed from a very thorough MFE to enable a disabled child to succeed in his school environment. IDEA defines it as a “written statement for a child with a disability that is developed, reviewed and revised in accordance with 300.320 through 300.324.”

A good IEP will have several components to it. First of all, it will give all the personally identifiable information that a district employee would need to contact that child’s parents if needed. Then, it would have the disability of the child stated on it. Then, it would most likely name the category for which the child qualified for services under, such as an ADD child would qualify for services under the category of “Other Health Impaired” in Ohio, or the blind child would qualify under, “Visually Impaired”, etc. Then, it would have the present levels of performance of the child as he is performing today in school.

This would be identified either by the MFE or a child’s teacher could write how he is performing or the parent could be responsible for this as well. For example, if a child was having difficulty hearing the teacher, the auditory discrimination evaluation may have revealed that he has a problem discriminating the sounds of the classroom from the sounds of the teacher’s voice. So a present level for this would state that “Johnny has difficulty distinguishing sounds in the classroom from the teacher’s voice, as reported in the MFE page 12.” Another present level could be that Johnny has difficulty differentiating between the “th” sound and the “f” sound as reported in the MFE page 12. The IEP will also have goals for the child.

The first goal would be an annual goal which is what we want to see Johnny accomplish over the school year. The second goal would be the short term goals we use to accomplish the annual goals. For example, if we want Johnny to be able to differentiate the sound “th” from the sound of “f”, we would write an annual goal of “Johnny will differentiate the “th” sound from the “f” sound when given 5 words with the “th” or “f” sounds, correctly with 100% accuracy by June of 2009. The short term goals would be something like this, “When given 5 “th” sound words, Johnny will correctly identify the “th” sound with 100% accuracy by 12/08. When given some words with “th” sounds an some with “f” sounds, Johnny will describe the difference between the two sounds with 100% accuracy by 3/09.” As you can see the long term goal is just that, it states the goal we are looking for in the long term, the year goal. The short term goal describes the steps we take to get to the long term goal.

The IEP will also tell who is responsible for completing the goal. If the special education teacher is responsible it will list her position as the person responsible. If it is a speech goal it would list the speech and language pathologist as the person responsible.

The IEP should also have the percentage of accuracy with which we hope to accomplish the goal. This is in a large part determined by what percentage the child is accomplishing the task at the present. If the child now reads at a 3rd grade level with 100% accuracy but only reads at the 4th grade level with 50% accuracy then in a year you would hope for that child to at least get to the 80% accuracy level by the end of the school year. This of course will depend on how quickly your child is able to achieve in one year’s time.

The IEP should also include dates that you expect the child to achieve the goal by. You will notice that the annual goal was set for the year marking of June of 2009, when the school year would be over. However, if your IEP was set up in April of 2008, then you would have your year ending in April of 2009. The short term goals would have goals set to achieve those short term goals at intervals to help you achieve the long term goal. I always separate my children’s goals into section. For example, I would have them separated into reading comprehension, word attack, syllable identification, sound identification, etc. That just made the goals easier to build.

The IEP should also have accommodations listed on it, such as a calculator for math problems, preferential seating, lap top computer for notes, spell checker, brailler, etc. If it is not listed on the IEP they do not have to use it for your child so make sure everything you want for your child is included on the IEP. The IEP is a legal document and once it is signed by both parties it is legally binding.

The IEP needs to have a section for special testing like the Iowa’s or state proficiency testing. This page should contain all the accommodations that you have for the normal IEP on this page as well. For example if your child is in a resource room for the majority of his day then the special tests should be given in this room also. If he uses a calculator to do his math then that should be on the testing form. Any reading devices or organizational devices should be here as well.

There will also be a section that asks for the LRE or Least Restrictive Environment for services to take place. The LRE is the school where your child would normally attend if they were not disabled. Today states are very clear that your child should be educated in the LRE or where your child would normally attend school. The days of sending your child to a special school or even a special classroom in your school is gone. For the most part children who can be educated with the other children in the home school should be educated there. The only time this would be different is if the district would contract another school in the area to serve severely disabled children or if there is a school for the deaf in the area, then the district may contract them to serve your child if they don’t have the facilities to serve them appropriately in their home district.

In this instance, the home district must pay for the transportation to send your child to the contracted school or provide the transportation themselves. Most of the time the LRE is either in the regular classroom or in a resource room, another classroom where smaller numbers of children are served with a special education teacher. Usually the last page of the IEP has several sections on it. One section is for everyone to sign saying that they participated in the IEP process. This should be signed by all members present at your IEP meeting, including yourself and any advocates or relatives or friends you brought to the meeting to represent you.

Another section will have a place for you to sign if you agree with the IEP. Once you sign this the school can put into place everything that is on that IEP, so if you do not agree to this IEP, do not sign it! You must reach an agreement on what is on that IEP before you let them put it into place. IF they go ahead and place your child without your signature on that IEP you can file a complaint against that school district, for that is a violation of law.

The IEP is a legal document and it does bind them to attempt to educate your child in the manner that is on that IEP. IF they fail to do anything on the IEP whether it is an accommodation or a goal you must point this out to their attention! You either put it in writing or call a new IEP meeting to discuss the issue. If they refuse to do what is written on the IEP after you have brought it to their attention then you can file a complaint against the district.

This is the link to view the law on IEPs. Look through sections 300.320-300.324 page 46787-46790 in IDEA.

#9. What is LRE or Least Restrictive Environment?

The Least Restrictive Environment for a disabled child is usually the school in which the child would normally be educated if he didn’t have a disability. IDEA says that the public agency (district or LEA) must educate the disabled child with other non-disabled children and that “Special classes, separate schooling, or removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” IDEA 300.114(a)(2)(ii).

Therefore, a child who is visually impaired should be educated with children who are not visually impaired. Ideally all children no matter what their disability would go to school with children in the regular school and in regular classrooms. However sometimes this is not practical.

There are schools for the deaf and blind that do a much better job of educating children with these special needs than the public school system does. They understand the specific needs for these children and address those needs very well. Although some parents feel that their child has to deal with a seeing and hearing world and wants them to be educated within this population, which is admirable.

In cases such as these the law is on the parent’s side and says that the child should be educated by the home district. When the district provides what the child needs to be successful, this can work. Even severely disabled children who are wheelchair bound can participate in a regular school environment with modifications made to the environment.

If a school refuses to make the accommodations to serve a child a complaint can be filed with either the state department of education or with the Office of Civil Rights. Complaints against physical barriers that prevent a wheelchair bound student from accessing an educational environment are usually handled by the Office of Civil Rights under the laws of 504 or ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).