History of Special Education

Special education only began when parent-organized groups started advocating for disabled children’s rights. Prior to this, disabled children were considered crippled, dump, mentally defective or feeble-minded, (J. E. Wallace Wallin, 1924). They were therefore excluded from education in public institutions. By 1975, more than half of disabled children were denied an opportunity to education. (William N. Myhill, 2004) However, during the 1950s and 1960s several parent-organized groups of advocacy emerged. Such groups included the American Association on Mental Deficiency, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Mental Retardation Panel by John F.
Kennedy among others. These groups’ advocacy necessitated establishment of schools for children with disabilities, both at the local and state levels. The advocacy also led to state’s concern for special education. Several legislations that aimed at development and implementation of programs for the needs of children with disabilities and their families were also passed. In 1958, 1959 and 1961 three laws; PL 85-926, PL 86-158 and the Teachers of the Deaf Act, respectively were passed. These laws helped in the training of teachers who to work with the mentally disabled and the deaf.
In 1965 the state also approved the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the State Schools Act. With these acts in place, states got access to grant funds for the education of children with disabilities (James J. Cremins, 1983). The United States Congress also approved the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) in 1975. This law was to protect the rights of children with disabilities and their families. The law later became the legislative foundation through which special education received federal funding (James J. Cremins, 1983).

In 1997 and 2004 the EHA was re-authored and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), changing the procedures for disability identification and demanding for high standards of qualification for teachers of special education. IDEA advocated for a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) to every student. Court cases have also been vital in shaping of special education. For instance, the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) challenged the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1971 for the exclusion of mentally handicapped from public schools.
The courts ruled out this discrimination. This case extended into 1972, with a ruling that children with disabilities be given education irrespective of its cost following a case filled by Mills against the District of Columbia (William N. Myhill, 2004) In 1998, Honig filed a case against Doe when two students were suspended for disruptive conduct resulting from their disabilities. The court ruled that students could not be punished for a disability-related misbehavior. As well, three different cases; Diana v State Board of Education (1970), Hobson v Hansen (1967-1968) and the Larry P. Riles case filled in 1979, sort a ruling on disability tests. The court ruled out the use of IQ, culturally biased and language-biased tests whose use to place a student in special education class was common. Special education has undergone remarkable transition; from the time when disabled children were simply ignored to today when a good number of programs for these children have been developed (James J. Cremins, 1983). There are now numerous professionals who evaluate children with disabilities and place them into the best conditions for their learning.
References James J. Cremins, (1983). Legal and Political Issues in Special Education4–5 J. E. Wallace Wallin, (1924). The Education of Handicapped Children Losen, Daniel J. & Orfield, Gary (2002), Introduction to Racial Inequality in Special Education. The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University: Harvard Education Press. William N. Myhill, (2004). No FAPE for Children with Disabilities in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Time to Redefine a Free Appropriate Public Education, 89 Iowa L. Rev. 1051, 1055

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