Some people may think that special education has been established since the beginning of public education. Others may consider a time when special education did not exist and students with disabilities were not able to attend school. The truth is, there was a time when this happened; these students were not allowed to be educated in the general education classroom alongside their peers. People with disabilities were treated differently, and some were forced into institutions because teachers and staff found them to be disturbances to their peers. Luckily, special education has come a long way since public education began. People, especially parents, advocated for their children, and today many laws are in place to ensure that all children have the right to be educated regardless of their disability. These special education laws began with landmark Supreme Court decisions.
Following the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, with the Supreme Court deciding that separate but equal facilities were acceptable, students with disabilities were rejected from public education. For example, in Massachusetts in 1893, a child with disabilities was removed from school because “he was so weak in mind as to not derive any marked benefit from instruction and further, that he is troublesome to other children…” (as cited in Watson v. City of Cambridge, 1893). Twenty years later, there was not much improvement. In 1919, a student with normal intelligence, but had an orthopedic impairment was also excluded because of the following:
his physical condition and ailment produces a depressing and nauseating effect upon the teachers and school children; . . . he takes up an undue proportion of the teacher’s time and attention, distracts attention of other pupils, and interferes generally with discipline and progress of the school (as cited in Beattie v. Board of Education of City of Antigo, 1919).
Such exclusion continued around the United States for similar reasons.
In 1954, Brown v Board of Education case was a major turning point for students with disabilities. The Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal was unconstitutional in American public schools. This ruling initiated the integration of blacks and whites and fueled other movements like feminism and the disability rights movement. Following this decision, in Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children v The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1972), children won the guarantee that they would be educated in a way that matched their needs and that would be free of charge (Friend, 2014). In the same year, 1972, the Mills v Board of Education ruling required schools to provide services regardless their districts ability to pay (Mastropieri, 2006). These impactful rulings were the beginnings of change and inclusion of all students in public education. In addition to these historic Supreme Court rulings, there were many legal mandates that were established that addresses the issues that were discussed in the courts.
One of the...