Let’s say you have a 7 year old child just finishing second grade who struggles greatly with reading, spelling and writing and has been diagnosed with a learning disability (i.e., dyslexia).
The school has recently classified the child for special education and an IEP (Individual Education Plan) is put into place.
In spite of the IEP, you have not been thrilled with how your child has been handled to date, since there has been no specialized intervention and second grade is effectively done.. So you look into a specialized private school about 20 minutes away that everyone tells you is perhaps one of the best ones in the country, the Dyslexia Nirvana School, commonly referred to as “DNS.”
Dyslexia Nirvana School comes with a pretty hefty price tag of $55,000 per year, so you want the public school to either provide what DNS does (specialized individual instruction daily) or to pay for your child to go there.
The parents ask me, “Don’t you think the school should either do what DNS does or send her there at their cost?”
I know this is going to be one of those tough conversations, so I breathe deeply going into my meditative mode and then offer the following answer –
“Nope, I do not.”
“What do you mean,” they exasperatedly respond, surprised I am that blunt and direct. “Do we need to get a lawyer?”
From there, I go into my understanding of special education and how it all works to try and help them get on board (not my favorite conversation).
“Here’s the deal,” I start. “The school is required by Federal Law to provide children who are given IEPs what’s called ‘FAPE’ (i.e., a Free and Appropriate Public Education). (The operative word in FAPE being “appropriate” which is challenging to define.) They are not obligated nor do they have the resources or the wherewithal to provide what a highly specialized private school offers such as the Dyslexia Nirvana School offers.”
I continue, “Here’s the guiding principle. Think of Dyslexia Nirvana as one of the best, most expensive cars you can think of – maybe a Lamborghini. Schools do not offer a Lamborghini and are not required to by law. It’s not that they are supposed to provide a mediocre product, but they can’t offer what a specialized private school offers.”
“Well, we want her to have the best,” says the mom.
“Then, at least for now, you need to enroll her in the Dyslexia Nirvana School and pay the tuition on your own.”
“What do you mean ‘at least for now?’”
“Look,” I continue, “I’m not a representative of the school and I’m just sharing my understanding of how it works, but at this point the school has barely worked with her. The program they are suggesting is ‘appropriate’ meaning it is an educationally acceptable program considered to be “appropriate.”
Let’s say some time goes by with this program and she makes very little progress. Then you are in a better position to say they are not providing FAPE and you can make an argument that she should attend the Nirvana School at their expense. Let’s hope she makes progress, though. We need to watch it closely.”
FAPE is the guiding principle, with the operative word “appropriate,” being open for interpretation. Before you go for the Lamborghini and expect the school to pay for it, you need to go a step at a time.
Copyright, Richard Selznick, Ph.D. 2022, www.shutdownlearner.com.
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