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History of Special Education

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The special education program has not always been part of the public education system offered in the United States. In fact, it was not even introduced as a formal program until after the 1970’s. Prior to the 1970’s, a number of parent-organized advocacy groups formed grass-root movements in order to promote the education of children with special needs and to protect them against discrimination inside and outside of the classroom. A brief outline of the laws that changed special education in the United States is as follows:

  • History of Special Education1975 - Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EHA)
    • Gave free and appropriate education for all children from ages 3 to 21 years old
    • Extended the rights of children with disabilities and their parents
    • Allotted for individualized education programs
    • Called for a Least Restrictive Environment
    • Provided federal funding to states and local governments for educating children with special needs
  • 1986 - Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986
  • 1990 - Individuals with Disabilities Act
  • 1997 - Amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Act

As the grass-root movements gained momentum, it forced the United States government to consider passing legislation that protected children with special needs against educational-based discrimination. Finally, in mid-1970, the efforts taken by parent-organized advocacy groups paid off with the passing of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

Special Education in the US

As special education programs became more prominent within the public education system of the United States, more issues were uncovered pertaining to the special education program and the Educational for All Handicapped Children Act. In order to address these issues, several amendments to the legislation were passed during the 1980’s and the 1990’s. These amendments resulted in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA that is still in place today. This legislation ensured that every special education program in the United States was free to the public, met the special needs of each individual student, and fully protected special needs students from discrimination inside and outside the classroom.


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