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The Legal Position of Free Appropriate Public Education

In 2004 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was enacted to cater to children with disabilities. Under IDEA a free appropriate public education consists of educational instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities supported by such services that are necessary to permit the child to benefit from those instructions. In JP Exel Peterson vs. County School Bd of Hanover County parents sued the school board on behalf of autistic students.

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The parents in their suit were seeking to challenge the decision of an officer who had indicated that the Individualized Education Plan was sufficient. The court however held that the IEP was not adequate and that a private school for children with disabilities was an appropriate placement. The court further argued that the school was under obligation in accordance with the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to pay the payments for private schools for students with disabilities. However, following this decision the school board decided to appeal.

On appeal the court found that the trial court had made various errors that were technical in nature. In their ruling the subsequent court found that the prior decision by the officer was well-considered and decided and that the error on the part of the trial judge was overreliance on absence of findings.

From the decision of the case we can gather that an appropriate Individualized Education Plan under the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 is one whose major concern is the level of functioning of any disabled child, set achievable annual goals, set out in detail what it intends to provide in terms of services and establish a method through the progress of the child is closely monitored and evaluated. According to this case therefore an appropriate Individualized Education Plan is one whose main objective is to ensure that a disabled child acquires educational benefits.

The legal definition of Free Appropriate Public Education

Various sections within statutes provide that schools should provide disabled students with education that;

  • Is designed to meet the unique educational needs of students
  • Such education should thus address both the academic and functional needs of these particular students.
  • Providing access to the general curriculum so as to enable a student to meet the challenging expectations
  • Such education should be provided in accordance with established individualized education plan (IEP)

Free appropriate public education is thus an education program designed to meet the specific unique needs of a child while providing accessibility to the general curriculum provided in public schools with the aim of enabling a child to meet the grade-level standards established to enable a child be provided with educational benefits that result from attaining the required grades. Various judicial interpretations of the foregoing statutory provisions have been upheld in various cases, of which this section will examine.

Legal and Ethical Critique of the Cases

(a) The case of Hornstine V. Moorestown Bd of Ed. 263 F. Supp, 2d. 887

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Blair Leah Hornstine a graduate of Moorestown High School sued the Moorestown Township Public Schools Board of Education to bar them from enacting a proposed addendum that would introduce the designation of multiple valedictorians.

Under the current school policy, Bair Horstine would have been the sole recipient of valedictorian honor since she had the highest weighted grade points of 4,689. The board however argued that students were not afforded equal opportunities to earn the valedictorian honor because of the accommodation granted to Houston as opposed to other students. (Tomlison,1982)

Issues Arising

Whether the process of selection under the school board’s amended valedictorian policy violates Blair’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act as read with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.


The policy as amended did violate Blair’s right to be free from discrimination under ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act therefore Blair should be selected as the sole valedictorian according to the previous policy.

(b) The case of County School Bd of York County V. A.L. and his parents and net friend NO.05-1167

This case examined a student’s requirement for them to be considered under the individual’s education plan.


A.L. a 20-year-old student of Grafton High School in York county was suffering from a Down Syndrome and as a result experienced difficulty in speaking and as a result used sign language to clarify his communication. The school board brought a complaint on grounds that the proposed addendum was legally insufficient as it failed to comply with state regulations on grounds that the sign language interpreters employed by the school were not certified and that IEP was required to provide a student with direct occupational therapy. (Armstrong,1995)

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Issues Arising

What determinants were required for eligibility for special education?

What determines the appropriateness of an individual’s Education Plan?


Before the drafting of individual education plan the determination of whether the child qualifies for special education services is mandatory. The consideration of whether a child is suited for special education his ability must have adverse effects on the child’s educational progress. It was established that the mere existence of a disability does not render one to be eligible for special program.

Secondly it was established that in drafting the individual education plan consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of a child as well as concerns of the parents must be put into consideration.


  • Free appropriate Public Education is a program that is established
  • Consideration of the child’s needs should be effected while developing an individual Education Programme. This includes assessment of students in all areas of their disability
  • Consideration of the child’s accessibility to the general curriculum is also of essence
  • Consideration of how the disability affects the student’s learning is of essence
  • Choice of a placement that is in least restrictive environment should be identified


  • Implementation of the educational services by teachers. The implementation should also include program modification and support
  • Creation of 30 day period to make necessary amendments so as to ensure appropriate program modification
  • There should be a provision of procedural safeguard. This is to be able to provide supplementary aid and services together with the required technology


In conclusion we can make out from the discussion above that the Individual with Disabilities Education Act has contributed a great deal to the increase in litigation. This is so because this Act has given various rights to parents of children with disabilities. This Act has been viewed by most schools as a challenge. Whether an Individualized Education Plan is adequate or not is a matter of fact and is actually a factual question. The Act has therefore put an obligation on the courts to carefully answer this question based on the evidence provided.


Potts P., Armstrong F (1995). Equality and Diversity in Education. New York, Taylor and Frame work Group.

Tomlinson S. (1982) A Sociology of Special Education, New York, Routledge.

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