This led to the creation of special advocacy groups, groups that simply asked for “appropriate, equal educational opportunity” for persons with disabilities. Their efforts gained national attention in the early 1960’s, when President John F. Kennedy created the “President’s Committee on Mental Retardation.”

A number of state courts began to support the right of a person with a disability to free, appropriate educational opportunity, and set the following passage of Title IX in 1964, The United States Congress passed bill after bill, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law an enormous array of groundbreaking legislation designed to protect the rights of people with disabilities. In terms of children’s education, the news laws expressed the will of the people resoundingly: Children with disabilities must guarantee a free and appropriate public education.

Following the 1960’s, federal protections and guarantees of educational rights for people with disabilities continued to evolve. The real culmination occurred in 1975 with the passage of the landmark federal legislation, PL 94-142, establishing free, appropriate education for all. PL 94-142 covered age 3 through 21, required Individual Education Programs (I.E.P) and introduced the concept of “Educational environment to fit individual needs,” what we know today as L.R.E., “Least Restrictive Environment.” For the first time, the principles of “Least Restrictive Environment” and “Individualized Educational Planning and Placement via multidisciplinary team assessments” were combined with free, appropriate and nondiscriminatory practices. Of greatest importance, this one piece of legislation guaranteed the federal government’s financial support of state programs.

Prior to the 1960’s, with no federal mandate, the idea of educating people with disabilities in the United States seemed elusive at best. The United States Constitution places responsibility for education upon each individual state. As a result, efforts to establish uniform standards for the education of children with disabilities were perpetually thwarted. In the early 1950’s, the only special education programs available were those that had been developed and privately funded by parents or parents groups, and then only in a few communities. The first sign of change came in 1954.

1954’s Brown v. Topeka served to broaden dramatically the concept of education as a civil right, raising the issues of education to the national level. Brown v. Topeka supported “equal educational opportunity” as opposed to “separate but equal” education.

James E. Brown & Associates, PLLC