7. The History of School Speech Pathology

Turning Point

Parents successfully mobilized for the retarded but they needed legal, political and legislative victories.

The turning point came with a federal district court case Parc v. Pennsylvania (1972). “In 1971, Attorney Thomas K. Gilhool represented the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PARC v. Commonwealth) in a case that resulted in a landmark decision which affirmed the right to education at public expense and due process for children with disabilities. He used Brown v. Board of Education in his arguments” (NAPPE).  The finding laid the foundation for FAPE rights.

There were many measures mandated for all special education service providers eventually finding their way into IDEA legislation. The skills required to exercise these responsibilities had not been taught in college training programs.  The role of the speech pathologist was  changing dramatically and to this day remains under pressure.


Congress passed the Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EHA).  It caused panic among educators.  In Ohio, there was commotion over which agency would be the lead agency (SEA). There was talk of how teachers were going to “mainstream” handicapped children into the classroom. EHA forced schools to find all handicapped children and make sure they were in school. The word “mainstreaming” meant dealing with difficult disabled children during everyday classroom lessons.  

Among educators, there was no sense of celebration from the beginning of IDEA legislation.  It was more a sense of concerns over teaching loads and difficulties. One can imagine a celebratory atmosphere among teachers who wanted  “to help all the children.” From this time forward changes in federal law and regulations evoked concerns about managing change rather than accepting it for the benefits and opportunities. There was no sense of teachers repaying a debt owed to the handicapped, correcting an historic wrong.


Meanwhile parents were in a different state of mind. They celebrated a final solution of an old and painful problem:

 “We were vulnerable, ridiculed and victimized at the turn of the century and it took 75 years to fight back, and try to overcome this legacy of menace and dangerousness. Now we are brought to the point when many felt it was time to develop statute which would uphold safeguards to bar the past from becoming a part of our future.”

There were speech pathologists who were pleased with mainstreaming approaches based on their personal humanitarian principles.  However, their reactions overall were more like school teachers’. “This is making my job harder!”

School Folklore

In this period a bit of political folklore originated —  That parents are adversarial and the lawyers who help them cannot be trusted.  Suspicion of parents became a kind of institutional defense mechanism disconnected from history and national perspective.  Even young teachers coming into the system were socialized to believe  they might be sued by parents if they didn’t watch out! In fact, thousands upon thousands of IEP meetings go on every year with no problems.  Parents typically are happy to have the help and go along with school preferences. Educators continue to resent the intrusions of the courts and congress obliging them to correct historical wrongs done to the handicapped.

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