Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Setting a Precedent

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Setting a Precedent

Article excerpt

My wife, Peggy, tells a story about our early years in Washington, D.C., while I was on leave from a university faculty working as staff director for the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Handicapped. It is about a conversation I don't remember. One night during dinner I expressed my happiness about Congress passing a piece of legislation I had helped draft, and I said, "We did something today that is going to help one million children with disabilities."

She said later that she knew at that time that we would not soon be returning to the campus, and she was right. I had learned that I could use my professional training to affect public policy and hopefully help many children.

The act she referred to was the first "Education of the Handicapped Act" in 1966, which for the first time began to provide federal funds to the states for the "initiation, improvement or expansion" of programs to educate children with disabilities. As significant as that legislation was (it also created a top-level federal agency -- the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped, BEH), there was an even more significant event still to come.

By 1972, I had the privilege of serving as Deputy Commissioner of Education and Director of the BEH, a part of the U.S. Office of Education in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The BEH played a leadership role in developing federal policy affecting education of children with disabilities. It was also responsible for administering federal programs which helped train teachers, assist states and local school districts with support for programming and provide funds for research, demonstration and the development of new and better ways to educate children with disabilities.

The year 1972 found me immersed in a campaign to create a policy that would correct a terrible wrong. Across the nation, parents found their children with disabilities being turned away from schools, inappropriately served or attending schools but not reveiving special education assistance.

Only a relatively few children with disabilities, estimated at one or two out of five, were in special education classes or programs. No state was serving all its children with disabilities, and even in the few states that had "mandatory" laws requiring such programming, there were either exemptions permitted or the laws were not fully implemented or enforced.

In the winter of 1969, as President Nixon planned to take office, I joined with Fred Weintraub of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) in urging the Nixon "transition team" to make a commitment to children with disabilities a part of their administration. We pushed that agenda again with the President's Bureau of the Budget, but ultimately the administration decided that the burden of financing school services should be on the states and the federal role should be limited to such activities as research and teacher education grants.

When a new education commissioner joined the Nixon administration in 1971, I urged him to make education of children with disabilities one of his major priorities. Sidney P. Marland agreed, and once again we approached the Bureau of the Budget, but with no greater success.

We decided to change our wording, and instead of declaring it a national goal, we "called for the development of a national goal of educating all handicapped children by 1980." To implement that goal, we stimulated grass-roots activities, making a film of Commissioner Marland urging such a goal and circulating it to every state education agency. …

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