What does a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) mean?

By Connecticut Special Education Attorney, Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq. | Forte Law Group LLC

If you live in Connecticut and have a child with a disability, you will want to familiarize yourself with available resources about special education law in order to more fully advocate for your child’s educational needs. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), your child has the guaranteed right to receive a free appropriate public education, or a “FAPE.”

Your child’s right to receive a FAPE means that his or she is entitled to special education at no cost to you, the parent. If a school or school district says otherwise, they are wrong and you should contact a special education attorney to further discuss the issues.

Under the IDEA, the term “free appropriate public education” within the IDEA means 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 school, or secondary school education in the state involved; and

d. are provided in conformity with the individualized education program.

IDEA mandates that your local public school district is responsible for providing your child with a disability with the right to receive special education and related services that are designed to meet the unique individual needs of your child. For simplicity, let’s further highlight what the acronym a FAPE means:

F – is for FREE

Your child has the right to receive a “free” appropriate public education. While technically you as the parent are not directly paying for your child’s public education, you are in a way paying for it indirectly because you pay local, state, and federal taxes. Connecticut and the United States federal government spend billions of dollars to ensure that your child with a disability is entitled to the right to receive a FAPE.


Receiving a free “appropriate” public education means that any child that qualifies for special education and related services. Your child’s special education and related services are appropriately delivered to your child through the use and implementation of a uniquely designed Individualized Education Program, or an “IEP.”

The “appropriateness” legal standard of a FAPE has evolved throughout the history of the IDEA. Under the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case of Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, the Supreme Court held that a school district is only obligated to meet the requirements of the IDEA by providing individualized instruction that is intended to confer a “reasonable educational benefit, not maximum educational opportunities” to children with disabilities.[1] However, in March 2017, the FAPE requirement was expanded in the crucial U.S. Supreme Court case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, whereby the Supreme Court rejected the previous Rowley “de minimus” progress standard and held that school districts must now give students with disabilities the opportunities to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress.[2]

P – is for PUBLIC

The “public” piece of a FAPE simply means that your child’s special education is supervised, provided, and managed by your local public-school team and school district administrators. If your local public school district is unable to provide your child with a FAPE, then your local public school district is obligated to place your child within an appropriate private school that specializes with the needs of your child and pay for it.

E – is for EDUCATION

As previously stated above, your child’s right to receive a free appropriate public “education” refers not only to special education, but also to related services such as speech and language services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, tutoring, counseling, paraprofessional support, assistive technology and many other related services.

Unfortunately, it very common for school districts to grossly deny a child with a disability with a FAPE. As you see if you read through our recent results page, our firm exclusively handles IDEA and FAPE violations on behalf of parents of a child with a disability in Connecticut.

If you feel that your child’s right to receive a FAPE under the IDEA has been violated or that your child’s IEP is not appropriately ambitious, you should consider speaking with an experienced special education attorney.

For more information or to read other scholarly law articles, visit www.fortelawgroup.com