What factors led to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 and what was its immediate impact on local schools?
Before 1975, public schools had few obligations to children with disabilities. The vast majority of children, especially those with severe disabilities, were kept out of the public schools and even those who did attend were largely segregated from their non-disabled peers. However the 1975 act, which required all schools receiving federal funding to provide handicapped children equal access to education and mandated that they be placed in the least restrictive educational environment possible, did not come out of nowhere. It was the logical result of a wave of activism that started after world war two and picked up steam during the 1960s and 70s. Though the civil right movement is mostly remembered for the rights that it brought racial minorities and women, it also created a movement demanding rights for those with disabilities. The act was brought on not just by public support, but also by legal pressure. Cases such as Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia forced the government’s hand. These Fourteenth Amendment cases affirmed the right of children with disabilities to have access to an education. However, while the Education for all handicapped children act was groundbreaking in terms of what it promised, even President Ford in his statement on the signing of the act acknowledged that; “this bill promises more than the Federal Government can deliver” (Ford). Indeed, the years immediately following the passage of the act were fraught with problems. While some advancements were made, there were problems with funding, conflicting state and federal regulations, and a general confusion over who was in charge of implementing the policies laid out in the act. In the years immediately following the passage of the act, disabled students did gain greater access to more inclusive education; they just did not receive all that the act promised to them.
(The Following 2 Paragraphs are not in the order that they will be in the final paper. They do not, and are not meant to, flow into each other)
One of the greatest factors that led to the passage of Education for All Handicapped Children Act was the legal pressure put on the government by advocates for children with disabilities. A series of court opinions invalidated the practice of denying handicapped children of an education and, in a sense, forced Congress to Act. One of the most important cases in this regard was Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 343 F. Supp 279 (1972). This case challenged a Pennsylvania statute that required that all children attending Pennsylvania Public Schools to perform at a certain level. Those who did not perform at this level were deemed “unable to profit from… public school attendance” and were not permitted to either start or continue to attend public schools. The plaintiffs in this case challenged the constitutionality of this statute on Fourteenth Amendment Grounds claiming that it denied disabled children of equal protection under the law. The case was settled with a consent agreement that schools may not “terminate or in any way deny access to a free public program of education and training to any mentally retarded child” (Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania p.27). This decision was later reinforced in a Federal jurisdiction in Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia 348 F. Supp. 866 (D.D.C. 1972). Therefore Congress was left with little choice but to pass this type of legislation. Despite all of the advocacy, it was legal judgments that finally led to the passage of such an act.
In 1981, the U.S Department of Education conducted a study of the implementation and impact of the act at the state level. The study sought to explain “why certain Federal and Congressional expectations are not being met” (United States p.2). The study found that many states were struggling to implement the mandates of the act. It found that State Education Agencies (SEA’s) were struggling mightily in there attempts to implement the supervisor provision of the law which required them to evaluate all programs for the deaf, blind and mentally retarded. The study found that attempts at implementation had resulted in “the allocation of a relatively high proportion of SEA resources, time, and effort which were only marginally effective in implementing the provision” (United States p.11). This ineffectiveness presented a clear issue. Not only were SEA’s spending a great deal of resources on trying to supervise and evaluate programs for disabled students; they were also doing a poor job. This meant that while many programs were being created, they were largely going unsupervised. While it seems that most programs were making a good effort at providing disabled students with an education, the lack of supervision presents an obvious flaw.
Ford, Gerald. “President Gerald R. Ford’s Statement on Signing the
Education for All Handicapped ChildrenAct of 1975.” Gerald Ford Presidential Library, 2 Dec. 1975. Web. 18 Apr. 2012. <http://www.ford.utexas.edu/library/speeches/750707.htm>.
Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 343
F. Supp 279 (1972). http://www.state.me.us/education/speced/cds/training/miscellaneous/partc.pdf
United States. Department of Education. P.L. 94-142: A Study of the
Impleaentation and Impact at the State Level. Volume I. Final Report. By Charles Blaschke. Washington D.C: Education Turnkey Systems, 1981. Print.