Law Office of Michelle Ball Disabilities,Special education/IEP The Four Letter Word in Special Education: “BEST”

The Four Letter Word in Special Education: “BEST”

Best is a bad word in special education

Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

It does not cross the minds of most parents that certain language related to special education is somehow “bad,” or that using a single word in the quest for services could cause a parent to fail.  However, there is one word which ranks in my book as the number one most hideous, most awful word when it comes to special education- BEST (otherwise known as  “B***”).  Now, this is counter intuitive, but it is true.

Parents often believe that special education is to provide their child with the “best” education.  Little Johnny ought to be placed where he has the best chance to succeed, in the environment where he will go the furthest, at the school which interests him the most, right? Obviously, he deserves the best, doesn’t he?  I hate to break it to you, but the answer is NO.  Johnny is not entitled to the best school environment, best services, or anything “best” at all, at least not when placement is made via the public schools.

How can this be?  We do not understand!  This is because under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the word best does not exist.  The word APPROPRIATE, however, does.  Johnny, as a special education student is ONLY entitled to an APPROPRIATE placement to meet his UNIQUE needs.

I recall cases I have read where the parents’ professionals (psychologist, etc.) testified at hearing, and recommended X school with stellar services as these would be “best” for the child involved.  However, despite the truth of these assertions, the parents lost their case.  Why?  They attempted to apply a higher standard and of course, they used the bad word!  Best!  Well, like a child who does something wrong, they were punished for it and LOST their quest for the “best” placement.

Had the experts oriented themselves slightly differently to recommend X school with the APPROPRIATE services to meet the child’s needs, they might have won.  I bet the school district attorneys in these cases (where a maximum benefit rather than appropriate benefit was sought) snickered to themselves as they knew the IDEA does not support the BEST OF ANYTHING.  Rather, it merely supports an appropriate placement.  This can come as a shock to parents, and even professionals.

So remember, please, that when you have professionals write letters in support of your requested placement, when you advocate for your son or daughter’s placement, never ask for the BEST of anything- ask for what is appropriate – the appropriate placement, the appropriate services, the appropriate accommodations….  These could be exactly the same things, by the way, we just identify them differently.  And, exclude forevermore from your language, at least when it comes to the public schools and special education, the word “best.”  It can mean the difference between winning and losing.