The Cost of a “Free” and Appropriate Education


Back in 1973, under section 504 of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, a new world was formed for students with all types of disabilities. It is specifically defined as, “Under Section 504, FAPE is defined as “the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual needs of handicapped persons as well as the needs of non-handicapped persons are met and based on adherence to procedural safeguards outlined in the law.” [source] FAPE is an acronym that stands for a free and appropriate public education.

While any education system is fraught with challenges and difficulties of all types, I personally believe that nothing has caused more confusion than the introduction of special education students into the classroom. Please don’t misunderstand me! I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that children with special needs should not be included in the general education classroom. In fact, the opportunity for disabled children to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers is one of the best things that has happened for many students with disabilities.

When I was in elementary school back in the 1970s, I went to a private, Catholic school. Students were grouped according to their abilities, allowing each group to be educated at a pace and level that was attuned to their educational needs. I despise the term gifted and talented, because I believe that all children have gifts and talents, but those with an easier ability to learn complex material also at a quicker pace, were placed into a separate group. In contrast, children who had struggles with certain subjects and needed additional assistance and teaching at a slower pace, were placed into another group. This system worked well, although there was still the usual bullying of those who were in the classrooms designed for children in need of additional assistance.


This concept is still being used today in the public school system, but it is organized somewhat differently. My daughter, who was 13 and is in the seventh grade, struggles in many of her subjects due to her autism with which the main issue is executive functioning. For those who are not familiar with the term, its definition and connection with autism is explained here. The source that I’ve referenced from the National Institutes of Health is complex but thorough. What I experience with my daughter is directly related to the deficits in her executive functioning.

She has an IEP and has since she was in preschool. Over the years it has changed, and I have had to fight every step of the way to get her the diagnosis and services she’s received. The public school that my daughter attends is extremely overcrowded. Just getting around the school is exhausting, and I do not know how she concentrates and focuses in such a scattered environment. There are plenty of people who will tell me about scholarships and grants to private school, however, they don’t understand that private schools are not required to provide the same level of services that are mandated at the public school level. It’s a catch 22 to be honest. If she stays in the overcrowded, confusing public school, she has access to the services. If she goes to a smaller, private school, she can work in a less confusing and overcrowded environment where she will not have access to the services. This is the dilemma for the parents of the special needs child seeking a better educational opportunity.


If my daughter’s success in education were not such a serious matter, I would roll my eyes at the above graphic. Yes, I believe that the FAPE has the best of intentions when it comes to educating children from all walks of life. The reality is far different at least in my daughter’s case. She has ended two of her school years with failing grades. Instead of repeating, she has been moved on to the next grade without the necessary skills to progress. As is common knowledge, each year becomes progressively difficult. For example, you can’t really master multiplication and division if you haven’t learned addition and subtraction properly. You can’t write essays if you haven’t learned how to create a paragraph.

This coming Tuesday, I have a meeting with the IEP team. I am always disappointed at these meetings that take place at the very end of the school year. They wind up open ended and not complete in my opinion. With summer looming, some issues are often relegated to a “let’s see how things go in the Fall” way of thinking. I am fortunate that my daughter does have a caring and responsible team, although I do not feel that she is receiving the FAPE she is entitled to and is ending up with failing grades again.


So once again, I am at a crossroads. My frustrations will be listened to and taken into consideration during the meeting. However, there is no guarantee whatsoever that anything will be done to improve my daughter’s education. I feel as though she is slipping through the cracks. For children who do not have difficulties with their education, it can be hard for other parents to understand the struggles for the parent(s) of a special needs child. While raising any child is difficult and fraught with challenges, there are times when I feel like giving up, but I don’t, ever. I’m all that my kids have and I have to work hard to fight for everything and I will never stop doing that.

This would probably be a great place to put a quote about perseverance and strength…

10 thoughts on “The Cost of a “Free” and Appropriate Education”

  1. We had problems getting Ben into the right environment. He’s been in public school in a mod/severe autism classroom since preschool. He’s in third grade now. Not all schools or teachers are the same though, obviously. We were having so many problems at his last school we had to call a special meeting with the district head of special ed. After several meetings and failed plans we moved him to a different school in the same district. This is a “magnet school” that specializes in music & art. He’s still in an autism classroom for grades 3/4/5 but he goes to music & art classes with the regular Ed kids so there is some interaction. This has been the perfect fit for him. Our next option was a private autism school paid for by the district. I don’t know if that’s an option for your daughter but it might be. Good luck to you! I know how hard those IEP meetings can be.


    1. I don’t know why districts can sometimes fight so hard AGAINST a parent! It’s frustrating. I tried to get my son into a magnet school to better focus his skills, however, he needed to pass the math and English exam (math was not a problem) so he was denied entry. I would up pretty much going to war with lawyers and getting my local government involved and he eventually was transferred to a “Level 5” Non Public school where he thrived, got honors and graduated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. WordPress ate some of my “likes” & replies.😤 Yikes! Agreed! The schools do make it hard sometimes. It like they hope we won’t fight for the best placement and make them work😏 congrats to your son & his awesome mama bear Mom!


  2. My son’s best friend all through Primary school was a “J”, boy with both cognitive and physical disabilities.
    Luckily his school here in the Netherlands has a system where any child with a disabity gets an additional staff assistant to help this child.
    In order to not single out the child too much, the assistant spends 50% of the time with the special needs child and the rest of the time helping out other students in the class.

    I don’t know if this was a full time position because “J” had at least three afternoons and maybe more, off school to attend to his medical issues. Physio etc.
    His presence in the class was excellent: he has a wonderful personality, one of the most popular kids in class, the others learned a lot about how difficult things were for him and would gladly help.

    They also would give him cuddles and hugs when he got frustrated, upset, cried etc. “J” and his family no longer live in the Netherlands but even three years later, my son still skypes him every few weeks (when time zone differences and school schedule allows).

    As a parent of a child without disabilities I am pleased that “J” was allowed to share a normal class, I feel it was benificial to everyone. However this obviously works (or not) on a case by case basis, and of course with a system that allows for the availibitlity for additional teaching assistants etc.Your Catch22 situation must be frustrating to say the least.

    We all know that parents trying to sit down with your own kids and study is HARD HARD work. They need (especially at this age) someone who they will ctually listen to 🙂

    I hope that you can find solutions: are their any assistance programmes that allow for tutors / mentor / assistant to help your daughter outside school hours to catch up / keep up? Are there local volunteers who can help? retired teachers? Who knows… if you can’t get help inside school then getting it outside might help. Think outside the box, look at all ideas no matter how wacky… you may just hit the jackpot and find someone or several someones who can make the difference you need in your daughters life right now.

    Stay strong and keep fighting for your daughters education… it’s in the Parent Job Description after all!


  3. kiwidutch, thank you very much for your comment. The system you refer to exists here, but it’s a very underfunded and underutilized addition to enhance a child’s success. My son had an assistant for several years, but they were paid the bare minimum in funds and required no training. I had to twice report one of them for inappropriate aggression towards my son!

    For my daughter, she is being bullied for being in the smaller classes. These classes have perhaps 6-9 students rather than the usual 25+. However, her classmates say unkind things as is often the case with anyone different. She handles it better than I expected, but it still stings. An assistant is now only provided for children with the most highly impaired special needs and in some districts, the funding has been cut altogether. America is not investing in their children unless they fit the status quo.

    Ha! Yes it is in the job description isn’t it! I’ve begun to think outside the box, including a trip later this summer to another state to investigate a district where a friend lives and has children with Autism. She still has to fight for what they need, but it seems “better”. It’s a full-time job for sure. I appreciate your time!


  4. public schools are not designed to help anyone not able to become part of the assembly line process created by John Dewey for public education…..couple that with inclusion of kids totally unable to learn at any pace, but forced to attend school anyway, and you can see the wasted money and lost education on the kids. Teachers are not prepared to help special needs kids, and the staff assigned to special needs are usually a strange bunch of nerds anyway….I have spent a lot of time substitute teaching to validate this information, first hand. a few kids can handle the public school and do well….most frankly are just past along.


    1. Thank you Joshua. I remain intensely frustrated with the public school process. My son graduated two years ago and he would like to go to college. Sadly, his adapted program left him with a 9th grade reading level, yet with a high school diploma. The school gets credit for passing him on and he is completely unprepared for college level reading, testing, lectures etc. It’s all so very frustrating. I appreciate your comments and insight.


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