A Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
is what all children in the U.S. are entitled to under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
What the law does not spell out to a definitive degree is what "appropriate" means, and the interpretations school districts and parents bring to that word may vary widely. It's important to note that "appropriate" does not mean "best," nor does it mean "appropriate to the school district's plans for this year." The law requires that this FAPE take place in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE),
also a slippery concept. For some kids, this will mean full inclusion; for other kids, a self-contained classroom may in fact be less restrictive and more appropriate. The important points for parents are that "appropriate" is the appropriate word to use when asking for services, and that all these interpretations must be individualized to the needs of the child, not the needs of the school or the needs of the district or the needs of the Ivy League college you've dreamed your child might go to.
Read more about Special Education.