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Brief History Of Special Education Legislation

Prior to the 1970’s special education in the United States was in a dismal state.  Many children with a disability were denied access to a public education.  Most of these children were either home schooled, did not receive any education at all or worse yet were institutionalized.  The foundation of today’s special education law was passed in 1975 and enacted in 1977.  This was Public Law 94-142, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EHA).  This law introduced the concepts of:

  1. Free Appropriate Public Education for children 3 to 21 years old;
  2. Protecting the rights of children with disabilities and their parents including due process rights;
  3. Individualized Education Program;
  4. Least Restrictive Environment; and
  5. Assisting States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities through federal funding.

In 1986, Public Law 99-457 was enacted, The Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986.  These amendments saw the need for early intervention and mandated services from birth.  The amendments required the development of a comprehensive system of early intervention for infants.

In 1990, Public Law 101-476 was enacted which renamed EHA to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.   This law expanded the eligibility categories to include autism and traumatic brain injuries as well as defining assistive technology devices and services.

In 1997, Public Law 105-17 was enacted, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997.  This reauthorization of IDEA saw the initiative for transition services.  It required a transition plan to be a part of every IEP no later than the child’s sixteenth birthday.  Many other major issues were addressed in this reauthorization some of them include:

  1. That every IEP must include present levels of performance, measurable goals, statement of services, and statement of accommodations or modifications;
  2. That a regular education teacher must be involved in the IEP;
  3. That students with IEP’s will participate in State assessment tests;
  4. Updated the discipline rules to align with recent court decisions; and
  5. Addressed eligibility for ADHD under Other Health Impairments.

The law we follow today Public Law 108-446 was reauthorized in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004.  When Congress enacted this law they made significant changes.  Please refer to the following link for more information Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.

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