The history of special education legislation

By Mary Flowers Spratt

Is special education failing your child? What are you doing about it? These are questions that were asked by N.A.P.S.E.A. (National Association for Professional Special Education Advocates). This article is the first in a series I will call ”A Voice for Children with Anxiety Disorders.”

Special education is difficult and confusing! It is designed to level the playing field for students with special education. However, why are so many children with disabilities falling further and further behind? Parents are the most important part of the process for creating Individual Education Programs (IEP) for children with special needs.

The following history of special education legislation includes information contributed to by Mary Johnson-Gerard, Ph.D., on April 14, 2010; it will educate many unlearned folk like me in the coming weeks.

The 1960s
In 1965, Title VI was added to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This action created the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. At this time, educating students with disabilities was not mandated by federal or state law. The passage of Title VI was an announcement to the field of public education that change was coming.

The 1970s
In 1972, two separate courts took the position that children with disabilities had equal rights to educational access. These decisions resulted in students with disabilities, who resided within the jurisdiction of these courts, beginning to attend public schools.

In 1973, Section 504 of the Civil Rights Rehabilitation Act (which the Minneapolis Public Schools staff seems to have forgotten to inform us parents of color about when putting the IEP in place for our children) made it compulsory that persons could not be discriminated against due having a disability. Although the intention of this legislation was to be inclusive of all persons regardless of age, public schools did not react to it in that manner. We will be discussing the 504 Civil Rights Rehabilitation Act in detail in an upcoming forum.

In 1974, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gave parents access to all personally identifiable information that was collected and maintained regarding their child. In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) was passed and mandated public schools provide educational services to students with disabilities. In 1977, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act final regulation was published. The rules defined in the regulations how public schools were to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

The 1980s
In 1986, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was amended with the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act. This change was made to clarify that students and parents have rights under both the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and Section 504 plans.

The 1990s
In 1992, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed into law. The ADA adopted Section 504 regulations: The impact of this was that students who were not found eligible for special education services, but had learning difficulties, were provided with Section 504 plans. If we had known all of these facts, the achievement gap between White students and African American and other students of color (i.e., Somali, Latino, etc.) could have been filled years ago.

In 1990, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was amended and called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This amendment made many changes to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. One of the most significant was the inclusion of the requirement that schools conduct transition planning for secondary students who were preparing for graduation.

The 2000s
In 2001, No Child Left Behind was enacted stipulating all students, including those with disabilities (ADHD, bipolar disorder etc.), would reach proficiency in math and reading by 2014. IDEA was reauthorized in 2004.
I am a foster parent, and the vast majority of my children come from traumatic situations, which includes mental health anxiety disorders; in working with the schools, so many principals and teachers admit they have very little training in these areas. We have some outstanding teachers that really could be more productive if they had the tools and resources to work with.
Some teachers we cannot fix, but we as parents will hold the Minneapolis School Board administration accountable for the training and resources the teachers needs to help our children that are falling behind.

Rev. Mary Flowers Spratt welcomes reader responses to, or call 827-9264, or write to 411 East 38th, Suite 102, Minneapolis, 55409.