On December 2nd, National Special Education Day recognizes the nation’s first federal special education law.
Beginning in 1971, a U.S. District Court case in the District of Columbia, Mills v. Board of Education, ruled it unlawful to deny exceptional children, including those with mental and learning disabilities, publicly funded educational opportunities. Court cases like this led to the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The law required states that accept federal money to provide equal access to children with disabilities. In 1986, protections were added to support parents and educators in creating an education plan for children with disabilities. Then, in 1990, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and improved access for all children with developmental delay. Through the years, the act has been enhanced to improve services and standards throughout the educational system.
IDEA made education available to all American children and this day honors the progress that has been made in special education. Before IDEA, many individuals with disabilities received little to no education. Schools were not required to make accommodations for children with disabilities. While some states offered special schools, the education and resources were not necessarily equal. Additionally, many parents couldn’t afford to send their children away to a special school.
The law stipulated that children with disabilities had a right to the same free education that every other child had access to. Between the ages of 3 and 21, there are 13 different areas where children may qualify under the IDEA for services. IDEA was instrumental in increasing graduation rates for students with disabilities.
IDEA resulted in many changes beyond bringing students equal education. The integration of students also helps to remove the stigma of disabilities. Another result of IDEA was the stimulation of technology for students with disabilities and for the classrooms. These technologies improved the education of all students.
But most of all, the day honors the students, parents and teachers whose actions in implementing the law made real life differences in children’s lives, even during these Covid times. As one Special Education teacher wrote:
My students have accomplished so many amazing things this school year, beginning with them being so adaptable of the unforeseen changes of distance learning. Seeing my students’ growth and progress day by day – whether they are virtual or in person or the growth is academic or social-emotional – is so rewarding and being able to share that growth with their parents. Celebrating victories in a student’s life can have a large impact in their overall success. I have witnessed milestone successes in every single one of our students.