School Law Bulletin #2007/01

Free Appropriate Public Education in the Fourth Circuit

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that helps states provide special education and related services to children with disabilities.1 Under IDEA, states receive federal grants if they satisfy the conditions set out by the federal government. Th ese conditions include (1) compliance with the conditions of the act, (2) assurances
that funds will be used only in accordance with the acts, (3) disclosure of other sources of funding for the same purposes, and (4) disclosure of whatever other information is required by law. States may choose whether or not to participate in the program—but there are large monetary incentives for doing so based on the number of eligible children in each state.

The central purpose of IDEA grants is to help participating states provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to all eligible students. To be eligible, a child must be evaluated (according to prescribed procedures) and identified as having one or more of the disabilities listed in the act. (See “Identifi cation and Evaluation,” below.) Additionally, the child must be in need of special education and related services. Th e act defi nes FAPE as special education and related services that

A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;
(B) meet the standards of the state educational agency;
(C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the state involved; and
(D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program [IEP] required by section 1414(d) of this title.

Th is defi nition provides a good foundation for understanding state and local responsibilities under IDEA, although some requirements may change as the courts continue to clarify various parts of the act and as the federal government modifi es the act or adds new instructions to the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.).

One important step in defi ning FAPE occurred in 1982 in Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley. In Rowley the U.S. Supreme Court established a two part inquiry for determining whether a child is receiving FAPE. The Rowley test requires states to comply with both the procedures and the substance set forth in IDEA. It therefore asks two questions:

• Has the state complied with the procedures set forth in the act?
• Is the resulting IEP reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits?

If the answer to both questions is “yes,” FAPE has been provided and IDEA requires nothing more, although there may be additional state requirements. If procedural violations occurred, but they were not prejudicial to the development of an IEP reasonably calculated to give educational benefit, again IDEA requires nothing further. If procedural violations occurred and were prejudicial, or if the IEP was inadequate, the courts must decide what remedies are appropriate.

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