What is IDEA

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What is IDEA




Pre Idea 1889:

In 1889, the Committee on Colonies for Segregation of Defectives reported to the National Conference on Charities and Corrections that custodians of the mentally ill had persuaded the American people that the mentally ill were dangerous and were getting lots of money for public institutions to segregate them.

The Committee recommended the Conference launch a campaign on all fronts to persuade the American people that the feebleminded, epileptic, idiotic and palsied were likewise dangerous, so they could get the money too. 30 Proceedings, National Conference on Charities and Corrections 248-49 (1903).

They did. And they did!

By 1920, every state in the country adopted statues which by force of law in every state excluded handicapped children from the schools; provided for their segregation into lifelong custodial institutions, and provided for their involuntary sterilization.

The public pamphlets which drove the statutes in every state , used similar titles and similar content :

*The Menace of the Feebleminded in Pennsylvania (1913)

*The Menace of the Feebleminded in Connecticut (1915)

*The Feebleminded, Or, the Hub to Our Wheel of Vice (Ohio, 1915)

You can find them on the shelves of the Historical Libraries in every state; they are collected in the Brief of The ARC, National Down Syndrome Congress and People First to the Supreme Court in the Cleburne Case (1985). Thurgood Marshall wrote in the Cleburne Case, "The resemblance to such works as the Negro: A Menace to American Civilization (S.C. 1907) is striking and not coincidental".

Amazingly, The same descriptors were used in 1919 in a Wisconsin Supreme Court case as were commonly used as recently as the reauthorization hearings in Washington DC in the spring of 1997 such as: crippled and defective child since his birth afflicted peculiarly high, rasping and disturbing tone of voice uncontrollable facial contortions, uncontrollable flow of saliva, which drools from his mouth onto his clothing and books the Supreme Court in the 1919 Wisconsin case upheld the school board's claim that: "his physical condition and ailment produces a depressing and nauseating effect upon the teachers and school children; that by reason of his physical condition he takes up an undue portion of the teacher's time and attention, distracts the attention of other pupils, and interferes generally with the discipline and progress of the school." (169 Wis. 231)

In 1893, the Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court, upheld the application of state statutes to a young man who more recently would be called moderately retarded but who was "troublesome to others and generally disruptive and held that "certain acts of disorder so seriously interfere with the school that one person who persists in them, either, voluntarily or by reason of imbecility, should not be permitted to continue in the school." (157 Mass. 561)

By force of law, in response to this, the states commanded that it was the duty of: "sheriffs", "county attorneys"...etc., principals of schools, all teachers, City and "every County superintendent of schools" (Tenn.), to seize the defective child and put him away in some other place "notwithstanding the family or relatives may object thereto" (Okla.)

This example may be the most obvious one to remind us of the return of the clock reflected in the new presence in the Amendments of 1997 of statutory handling of discipline issues and references to alternative places or settings as remedies. Brown vs Board of Education 1954--the Fed Court in this case stated that Separate is not equal

Seeds for Change:

In 1971, Attorney Thomas K. Gilhool represented the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PARC v. Commonwealth) in a case that resulted in a landmark decision which affirmed the right to education at public expense and due process for chilldren with disabilities. He used Brown v. Board of Education in his arguments. 27 federal court cases followed and led to the birth of the Act in 1975 which many have believed was our Magna Carta. We were vulnerable, ridiculed and victimized at the turn of the century and it took 75 years to fight back, and try to overcome this legacy of menace and dangerousness.

Now we are brought to the point when many felt it was time to develop statute which would uphold safeguards to bar the past from becoming a part of our future. In 1975 the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L.94-142) was born which mandated free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Individualized Education Programs (IEP's) were mandated with special education and related services designed to meet the unique individual needs of each child.

In 1985, in the most important Equal Protection decision since Brown, -- Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, a case concerning people with disabilities -- a unanimous Supreme Court held that the exclusion of people with disabilities from a Texas town violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. There, the Opinion said: "The mentally retarded have been subject to a lengthy and tragic history of segregation and discrimination that can only be called grotesque". 473 U.S. at 461, at 439, 448, 450, and at 453, 454.

"By the latter part of the 19th century and during the first decades of the new one, social views of the retarded underwent a radical transformation... [a] regime of state-mandated segregation and degradation soon emerged that in its virulence and bigotry rivaled, and indeed paralleled, the worse excesses of Jim Crow....Retarded children were categorically excluded from public schools, based on the false stereotype that all were uneducable and on the purported need to protect non- retarded children from them. (473 U.S. at 463-64)

In 1985, the Court observed: "Prejudice, once let loose, is not easily cabined...Not until Congress enacted the Education of the Handicapped Act were the doors of public education opened wide to handicapped children. But most important, lengthy and continuing isolation of the retarded has perpetuated the ignorance, irrational fears, and stereotyping that long have plagued them." (473 U.S. at 464) (citations omitted throughout).

* Between 1979 and 1994, a series of amendments to the EHA refined and increased the number of discretionary programs in personnel preparation, research, demonstration and technical assistance.

* Amendments were offered in 1986 (P.L. 99-457) which added a mandate for preschool programs for age 3-5 and planning for early intervention programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities.

The EHA Amendments of 1990, P.L.101-476, renamed the statute as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In 1994, P.L.103-382, the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, eliminated the separate authorization for the chapter 1 Handicapped Program and merged its authorization for funding with part B funding under the IDEA. (this amendment also gave school districts the right to remove children w/ disabilities to alternative settings for 45 days when such children bring firearms to school).

Then came the desolation of our Magna Carta and the rebellion of families and advocates around the country who managed to stop the "concensus bill" of June 1996 in its tracks. This bill passed in the House would have allowed cessation of educational services and the expulsion of children who anyone could clearly see are "disruptive". In the Spring of 1997, during 13 usually weekly and usually four hour conversations at the capitol from February to May '97 over which David Hoppe (chief of staff to the majority leader-James Jeffords) presided, the act was confirmed and formulated as the IDEA Amendments of 1997. They were adopted in Congress in May and signed by the President on June 4, 1997. Parts A and B were permanently authorized.

IDEA is now being re-authorized by congress.

What is IDEA

NCD Report

NCD Report on IDEA (Abridged Version)




IDEA History