by Barbara Cheadle
On November 29, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Education far All Handicapped Children Act, Public Law 94-142.
Despite the impact that legislation has had, and continues to have, on the education of blind children and other handicapped children in this country, few of us have ever read it. But even if we knew where to get a copy to read, we would propably be too intimidated to try (all that legal jargon...yuck!). But much of it is really not that difficult to read.
"So what", you say. "Why should I try?" " There are plenty of easier brochures to read if I want to know anything about it." That's true. But I have found, as a parent and an advocate for other parents, that it really does make a diffemce.
First of all, you can read it and make your own interpretation. You don't have to accept a second, or third or even fourth hand interpretation. It also gives you an edge in your IEP meetings. Most other people, including the teachers and the administrators, haven't read it either. This brings us to the most critical point of all.
Laws are usually written in as simple a manner as possible. They do not, nor should they, explain in detail how the law is supposed to be implemented. It is left up to a federal departement (in this case the Department of Education) and the states to do that. So, federal regulations are written; states pass laws and write more regulations; and the local school district adds more red tape with policies proceedures. B: is not too hard to see how the intent of the law can quickly be buried and forgotten in all this paper-work. As the old cliche goes, "You can't see the forest for the trees."
This is why it is important for us to read the law ourselves. We cannot depend upon the professionals to always see beyond the papers they have to fill out and the policies someone has told them they have to follow.
Going to the source and reading it for yourself is also a tradition in the National Federation of the Blind. When I first joined the NFB, I was surprised at the political sophistication of the average member. Legal jargon didn't phase them. They read court oders and legislative bills "straight" all the time in the Braille Monitor: So, what does P.L. 94-142 really say? Well, we are re-printing below the introductory part called, "Part A--General Provisions. Short Title; Statement of Findings and Purpose." This part explains why PL 94-142 was enacted and what the law is supposed to accomplish. We will also reprint other portions of PL 94-142 in Future Reflections from time to time.
But getting your own copy of the law is not terribly difficult or expensive. Libraries, especially law libraries, are good places to start. If they do not have it, they should be able to help you locate it. You can also try your state department of education, the Department of Education in D.C., or your Senator or RepresentLve in Congress. Any one of these resources should be able to help you locate a copy free or at minimal cost.
The address to write to in D.C. is: Madeleine C. Will, Assistant Secretary far Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, MES, Mary E. Switzer Building, Room 3006, 330 C Street, S.W. If you write, you may also want to ask how to obtain a copy of the federal regulations implementing PL 94-142; especially the regulations pertaining to the IEP process. If they cannot provide you with a copy, they should be able to direct you to a source for it.
EDUCATION OF THE HANDICAPPED ACT
Part A -- General Provisions Short Title Statement of Findings and Purpose
Sec. 601. (a) This title may be cited as the " Education of the Handicapped Act." (b) The Congress finds that--
(1) there are more than eight million handicapped children in the United States today;
(2) the special educational needs of such children are not being fully met;
(3) more than half of the handicapped children in the United States do not receive appropriate educational services which would enable them to have full equality of opportunity;
(4) one million of the handicapped children in the United States are excluded entirely from the public school system and will not go through the educational process with their peers;
(5) there are many handicapped children throughout the United States participating in regular school programs whose handicps prevent them from having a successful educational experience because their handicaps are undetected;
(6) because of the lack of adequate services within the public school system, families are often forced to find services outside the public shcool system, often at great distance from their residence and at their own expense;
(7) developments in the training of teachers and in diagnositic and instructional procedures and methods have advanced to the point, given appropriate funding, State and local educational agencies can and will provide effective special educational and related services to meet the needs of handicapped children
(8) State and local educational agencies have a responsibility to provide education for all handicapped children, but present financial resources are inadequate to meet the special educational needs of handicapped chilren; and
(9) it is in the national interest
that the Federal Government assist State
and local efforts to provide programs to
meet the educational needs of handicapped
children in order to assure equal
protection of the law.
(c) It is the prupose of this Act to assure that all handicapped children have available to them, within the time periods specified in section 612(2) (B) a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs, to assure that the rights of handicapped children and their parents or guardians are protected, to assist States and localities to provide for the education of all handicapped children, and to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate handicapped children.
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