28. Causes: Parent Pressure

In 2009 the consensus is there are too many children in special eduction programs. Public pressure from parents and attorneys is a factor to examine.

Public opinion has had immense success bringing handicapped children into mainstream education. At the 25 year anniversary of IDEA the U. S. Department of Education published this: “Before the enactment of Public Law 94-142, the fate of many individuals with disabilities was likely to be dim. Too many individuals lived in state institutions for persons with mental retardation or mental illness. In 1967, for example, state institutions were homes for almost 200,000 persons with significant disabilities. Many of these restrictive settings provided only minimal food, clothing, and shelter. Too often, persons with disabilities were merely accommodated rather than assessed, educated, and rehabilitated” (History of IDEA, 1997).

The National Conference on Charities and Corrections (1903) promoted the view that the handicapped were dangerous and should be segregated. “By 1920, every state in the country adopted statutes which by force of law in every state excluded handicapped children from the schools; provided for their segregation into lifelong custodial institutions, and provided for their involuntary sterilization” (Nappe).

By reasonable standards, the social movement to educate the handicapped was noble: “The Civil Rights Movement and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision which extended equal protection under the law to minorities, paved the way for similar gains for those with disabilities. Parents, who had begun forming special education advocacy groups as early as 1933, became the prime movers in the struggle to improve educational opportunities for their children” (Rethinking Schools, 2002).

But an unintended consequence followed: Parents and attorneys began to drive eligibility questions. Educators became afraid of lawsuits, as famous cases went to the U. S. Supreme Court. At IEP meetings members were afraid to disagree. It helped create a “culture of compliance” where the importance of IEP paperwork was elevated to protect schools and state departments rather than to ensure quality instruction. When in doubt, IEP teams placed children in special education to avoid parent disputes. The stigma of having a child in special education (least restrictive environment) was pushed aside by the parents rights movement. IDEA 2004 sought to reduce conflicts between parents and schools.

Administrators advocated for compliance, sometimes at the expense of special education teachers, school psychologists, SLPs and related services personnel obliged to provide the IEP services. A “litigious climate” was created.

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