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  • 1. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 1 Separate Is Not Equal: Fifty Years of Progress in Special Education By Lisa Israel Until the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education (1954), it was legal to segregate students by color as long as the education they received was equal. Regardless of whether white or Black schools received the same funding, had access to the same textbooks, had similarly qualified teachers, or had similar class sizes, the Supreme court held that refusing to allow students of color to attend White schools conveyed to the students that they were not equal. Students with disabilities were institutionalized and excluded from schools until 1966, when Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed. It had previously been assumed that these students were unable to learn as a result of their disabilities. In those cases where students with disabilities were provided with educational opportunities, often times they were kept separate from other students. Because they had been denied an education, they often lacked the ability to carve out careers and lives for themselves. Under Title III, states were given federal grants to provide an education to students with disabilities. The courts asserted in Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1972) and in Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia (1972) that a student with disabilities should receive an individually designed education that conveys some benefit. In 1973, thanks to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, students with disabilities were entitled to receive “reasonable accommodations” if they attended
  • 2. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 2 public schools that received federal funds. In the following year, Title VI of ESEA set the goal that all children with disabilities would receive “full” educational opportunities. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (since renamed “IDEA”) asserted that past discrimination against students with disabilities had occurred when students had been excluded from schools, either completely, or to an extent that deprived them of educational benefits. It also found that students were denied educational benefits when they were wrongly classified as having a disability, or when their needs differed because of incorrect classification. According to the U.S. Department of Education in A 25 Year History of the IDEA ( “more than 1 million children with disabilities… were excluded entirely from the education system.” Furthermore, as the U.S. Department of Education asserts, over half of all American children with disabilities at that time” received only limited access to the education system and were therefore denied an appropriate education” (U.S. Department of Education). Under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, schools were required to educate students in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible. The purpose of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act was four-fold:  To convey the right that students with disabilities have to a free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”)  To give students and parents due process, a procedure by which they can seek remedy when they feel the student is not receiving a free and appropriate public education  To provide federal assistance to SEAs and LEAs, and
  • 3. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 3  To assess whether the educational benefits provided to students with disabilities are effective. Under the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, SEAs and LEAs must accept everyone with disabilities (or the principle of “zero reject.”) Students also must receive a nondiscriminatory evaluation that accurately and fairly assesses their abilities and needs so that they can receive a fair and appropriate public education. Special Education teachers, other professionals, and the student’s family jointly design an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each student, which is reviewed annually to ensure that the student’s needs are being met and that an educational benefit is being conveyed. The assessment methods used, including the IQ test, were questioned on the basis of cultural bias in a class action suit, Larry P. v. Riles (1979). At that time, students with learning disabilities were routinely misclassified as having “educable mental retardation” (EMR) and were placed in special education classrooms on the basis of their IQ scores alone. In 1968-1969, students of African-American descent (who comprised 9% of the student population in California) were disproportionately classified as having “EMR,” and were placed in special education classrooms in which they comprised 27% of the population. (, 2013, Upon review, the court determined that the IQ tests given to students were designed and tested only on White students. As a result, multiple methods of evaluation were mandated by the courts. Schools were also required to make a census of EMR classrooms, and to justify the presence of the Black students who did attend.
  • 4. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 4 Students’ rights to receive educational benefits despite the challenges that their disabilities might impose was affirmed in the 1988 case, Honig v. Doe. Two students who had been classified as having EBD engaged in acts that put other students at risk. The LEA expelled the students indefinitely. The students challenged under the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now IDEA). The court held that if the conduct of students receiving services is “dangerous or disruptive,” the LEA is allowed to 1) suspend students for up to 10 days a school year 2) use disciplinary procedures that do not affect the student’s placement and 3) continue to provide services in place until the LEA obtains guardian consent or a court order to revise the student’s placement. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was renamed IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) in 1990, and specified autism and traumatic brain injury as separate from Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. The concept of “disability” was examined in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Under IDEA, as restated by Turnbull in Free Appropriate Public Education (2007), disability is seen as “a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society” (p. 11). Furthermore, IDEA (again according to Turnbull) is aimed at “improving educational results for children with disabilities” to ensure “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency” (2007, p. 11). Thus, students with disabilities are equally entitled to an education, and as was established in Brown in 1954, their education cannot be separate from their non-disabled peers because “separate is inherently unequal.”
  • 5. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 5 Also in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, giving legal protection from discrimination to individuals with disabilities. IDEA was reauthorized in 1997. To assure that students with disabilities are receiving the same quality of education as their non- disabled peers, No Child Left Behind (2001) mandates that unless a documented need for alternative assessment exists, all students must take the same state tests to assess their progress in meeting standards. IDEA was reauthorized last in 2004. Among the changes is that schools now use Response to Intervention (or RTI), a scientific, research-based intervention, to see if outcomes are improved in place of IQ testing. It also extended services to private schools. The 2004 revision added to the categories of learning needs; they now include Specific Learning Disabilities, Speech or Language Impairments, Mental Retardation, Emotional Disturbance, Multiple Disabilities, Hearing Loss, Orthopedic Impairments, Other Health Impairments, Visual Impairments, Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Developmental Delay (for students aged 3 – 9). IDEA also recognizes that minorities are disproportionally represented in Special Education. To achieve a racial balance in Special Education that is roughly equivalent to that seen in the general school population, IDEA sought to address problems associated with the mislabeling of students and the dropout rate of students of color who have been classified as having disabilities. Court rulings will continue to test the boundaries of the educational obligations that states and local education agencies have, and Special Education law continues to change. Disproportionate representation of Black students in Special Education continues to be an issue, especially in the categories of learning disabilities, mild mental retardation, and emotional/
  • 6. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 6 behavioral disorders (Trent, 2010). Black students tend also to be placed in more restrictive settings than their White peers (Trent, 2010). Disturbingly, there is a correlation between poor school performance, disabilities, and incarceration in the juvenile justice system (Trent, 2010). This overrepresentation may be due to deficit thinking on the part of teachers and other school professionals. In deficit thinking, the person in power attributes the blame of failure on the student, rationalizing that the student must lack motivation, have limited abilities, and lack the ability to control his or her own behavior. IDEA, NCLB, and other reforms over the past 50 years have attempted to put the impetus back on the educators to teach in a way that students can learn. Sources Trent, S.C. (2010). Overrepresentation of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students in Special Education. International Encyclopedia of Education, 2, 774-779. Turnbull, H.R. (2007). Free Appropriate Public Education: The Law and Children With Disabilities (7th ed). Denver, CO: Love Publishing Company. Image Sources Order rights/exhibit/section5/detail/images/brown-opinion-1.jpg Brown Newspaper headline.jpg School girls Man and kids Classroom
  • 7. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 7 Brown family Civil Rights Act people 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act order 51f6adb8a_files/10/0_0.jpg Section 504 wurdle D504.JPG&imgrefurl= _opp/disabilities/sect504&h=224&w=403&sz=59&tbnid=HOdJrNNJV- fQ5M:&tbnh=62&tbnw=111&zoom=1&usg=__Xio3V- yK1M2IH3ctJTxEC00MJ_w=&docid=GPC1S8vkSHMvLM&sa=X&ei=MAc0UrTYLMS0qgGi 6YGQAw&ved=0CFMQ9QEwDA&dur=8922 Section 504 heading Section 504 FAPE Section 504 girl pushing girl in wheelchair Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 image2.jpg Credit_Ren_Haoyuan--National_Center_on_Family_Homelessness-388x206.jpg IDEA 1990 ADA 1990 signing NCLB photo of students and teachers IDEA 2004
  • 8. Lisa Israel Foundations of Special Education September 15, 2013 8 students.jpg