Given the legislative roots of the defined right, schools are obligated to provide special needs students with an education which is tailored to meet their specific requirements, even as it prepares them for future independent living and employability. It is interesting to note that even though Free and Appropriate Public Education is clearly delineated by legislature as a right owed to disabled children, the constituent elements of FAPE are not clearly outlined. Questions regarding precisely what constitutes a free and appropriate public education persist. This paper will try to answer these questions.
Free public education has long been recognized as a responsibility owed by governments, not just to citizens, but to their societies and nations. As Chief Justice Warren noted in Brown v Board of Education:
Public education is a principal instrument for awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him or her for later training, and in helping them adjust normally to their environment. It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he or she is denied the opportunity of an education (Brown v Board of Education, 1954).
The above statement, made in 1954, underscores the importance of free, public education, insofar as it identifies it as the foundations of citizenship, acculturation, socialization and success. Whether on the individual or the collective/societal level, free public education is a fundamental concern since its availability is one of the primary determinants of national progress and development.
Free public education is important but, of greater importance, is the appropriateness of the education which is delivered. If the education received is to facilitate the realization of potential and contribute to success and development, it must address the needs of the society in question and be tailored to meet the intellectual level and capabilities of its recipients. The education in question must, in other words, respond to society's demands of the educational system, on the one hand, and accurately address the capabilities and limitations of students, on the other. The implication here is that the appropriateness of an educational curriculum is determined by the extent to which it addresses individual and societal needs and expectations.
Insofar as special needs students are concerned, the imperative of a free and appropriate pubic education are compounded by the very nature of their circumstances. Quite simply stated, the capacities and potentials of this group are somewhat constrained by the nature of their disabilities, be they mental or physical impairments. Educating this group of learners and ensuring that they attain a degree of independence and can, at the very least, earn a livelihood, is of paramount importance, whether assessed from the communal or the individual perspective. The education of this group, however, is ultimately predicated not only on the identification of the special learners but on the diagnosis of the learning disability which confronts each. In other words, the first step towards the extension of an appropriate education