Background for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Before the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted in 1975, U.S. public schools accommodated only 1 out of 5 children with disabilities. Until that time, many states had laws that explicitly excluded children with certain types of disabilities from attending public school, including children who were blind, deaf, and children labeled "emotionally disturbed" or "mentally retarded." At the time the EHA was enacted, more than 1 million children in the U.S. had no access to the public school system. Many of these children lived at state institutions where they received limited or no educational or rehabilitation services. Another 3.5 million children attended school but were "warehoused" in segregated facilities and received little or no effective instruction. As of 2006, more than 6 million children in the U.S. receive special education services through IDEA.

Historical Context
In 1954, the established educational format in the United States of segregating black and white students into separate schools was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court during the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). This caused a great deal of unrest in the political sphere and marks a gateway moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Education was an important aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. The years that led up to the formation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 were marked by strife in the United States, from the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 to the Vietnam war ongoing from 1955 until 1975. On top of those events, the Civil Rights Movement was in full force in the United States. From schools being integrated to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, from Greensboro sit-ins to marches on Washington, equal rights for all was a prevalent ideal. President John F. Kennedy showed interest in mental retardation studies and President Lyndon Johnson used Federal funds to increase research on "at-risk" youth. Early intervention programs for children living in low socioeconomic situations, such as the Head Start Program, began showing up around the country. Education was soon at the forefront of many political agendas.

The first legislation which provided relief was the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Congress then enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act to alleviate the financial burden created by litigation pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act. Public schools were required to evaluate handicapped children and create an educational plan with parent input that would emulate as closely as possible the educational experience of non-disabled students.Students should be placed in the least restrictive environment-one that allows the maximum possible opportunity to interact with non-impaired students. Separate schooling may only occur when the nature or severity of the disability is such that instructional goals cannot be achieved in the regular classroom. Finally, the law contains a due process clause that guarantees an impartial hearing to resolve conflicts between the parents of disabled children to the school system.

The act also required that school districts provide administrative procedures so that parents of disabled children could dispute decisions made about their children's education. Once the administrative efforts were exhausted, parents were then authorized to seek judicial review of the administration's decision

17 years later, in 1990, the EHA was replaced by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in order to place more focus on the individual, as opposed to a condition that individual may have. The IDEA also had many improvements on the EHA, such as promoting research and technology development, details on transition programs for students post-high school and programs that educate children in their neighborhood schools, as opposed to separate schools.