I want to share with you a significant childhood memories.
The year was 1973, I was eight and I was on the school bus coming home from a day of 3rd grade. We had pulled into my neighborhood, and just before I got out of my seat to walk up to the front to disembark, I looked out the window and saw him.
That was the only time I saw the boy, yet he is the only kid I can remember from a year riding the bus and he was never even on it.
And that’s why I remember him.
Because he never rode with us.
Because he didn’t go to school.
And because of that, he scared me.
He scared me because using my eight-year-old logic, I thought there had to be some reason, and it could only be a good reason, why the adults, who knew better, kept him from us.
I asked my mom about the boy and she told me he was mentally retarded and could not go to school.
He could not go to school.
After that conversation I was no longer scared of him. Instead, I was sad for him.
Yes, I lived in a time when a child with a disability was kept from going to school and participating in the activities I took for granted.
39 years later that makes me tear up just thinking about it.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have felt like for that mom, with her son, seeing the school bus pull up and know that her child would never be on it.
Because he couldn’t.
Because he had a disability.
What could that have felt like?
Essentially being told your child is not worth an education, not worth effort, not worth anyone’s time or worth a future.
I can’t. And I am so grateful for that.
Because just 18 years after that afternoon on the school bus, I gave birth to a child that would soon be diagnosed with a disability. But in less than two decades, the situation I faced as a parent was much different. Much.
And although my child experienced tremendous challenges, he had what the boy did not have, and that was a law that said he could go to school and I didn’t ever forget that or take it for granted.
And although the law does not provide a guarantee that all will be swell at school, it allowed my son access to school.
Oh my, we had our battles, but that’s okay, because in the larger scheme of life, we had gone through a door that was once barred. We were following behind those who got the doors open for us. We picked up the baton from them and continued their work and hopefully helped make improvements while we were there so that maybe the next child, who came behind us, might have one less battle. So the child after that, who is now the child today, almost two more decades later, faces a still better environment. That is the time and the path progress seems to take.
Here is an interesting chart on the history of Special Education. I think it helps to slow down for a moment and remember what came before us, for we all get lost in what is right now, our current struggle, and we forget. That’s natural.
We could be that mom looking at the school bus, knowing our child would never be on it.
But we aren’t.
There will always be a special place in my heart for the mom and the boy who scared me.
The chart begins in 1965, the year I was born…
|YEAR||HISTORICAL EVENT||IMPACT ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS|
|1965||Congress adds Title VI to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 creating a Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (this bureau today is called the Office of Special Education Programs or OSEP).||Educating students with disabilities is still NOT mandated by federal or state law. However, creation of the Bureau signified that a change was on the horizon.|
|1972||Two significant supreme court decisions [PARC v.Pennsylvania (1972) and Mills v. D.C. Board of Education (1972)] apply the equal protection argument to students with disabilities.||The courts take the position that children with disabilities have an equal right to access education as their non-disabled peers. Although there is no existing federal law that mandates this stance, some students begin going to school as a result of these court decisions.|
|1973||Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is enacted into statute. This national law protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability.||This national law was enacted with little fanfare. Most educators were not aware that this applied to public schools.|
|1974||The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is enacted.||Parents are allowed to have access to all personally identifiable information collected, maintained, or used by a school district regarding their child.|
|1975||The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) is enacted. This was also known as P.L. 94-142. Today we know this law as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).||Before 1975, children with disabilities were mostly denied an education solely on the basis of their disabilities. EAHCA, along with some key supreme court cases, mandated all school districts to educate students with disabilities.|
|1977||The final federal regulations of EAHCA are released.||The final federal regulations are enacted at the start of the 1977-1978 school year and provide a set of rules in which school districts must adhere to when providing an education to students with disabilities.|
|1986||The EAHCA is amended with the addition of the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act.||This amendment makes clear that students and parents have rights under EAHCA (now IDEA) and Section 504.|
|1990||The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is enacted.||ADA adopts the Section 504 regulations as part of the ADA statute. In turn, numerous “504 Plans” for individual students start to become more common place in school districts.|
|1990||The EAHCA is amended and is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).||This amendment calls for many changes to the old law. One of the biggest was the addition of transition services for students with disabilities.School Districts were now required to look at outcomes and assisting students with disabilities in transitioning from high school to postsecondary life.|
|1997||IDEA reauthorized||This amendment calls for students with disabilities to be included in on state and district-wide assessments. Also, Regular Education Teachers are now required to be a member of the IEP team.|
|2001||No Child Left Behind is enacted.||This law calls for all students, including students with disabilities, to be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014.|
|2004||IDEA reauthorized||There are several changes from the 1997 reauthorization. The biggest changes call for more accountability at the state and local levels, as more data on outcomes is required. Another notable change involves school districts providing adequate instruction and intervention for students to help keep them out of special education.|