Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Checkered History of Special Education Law

My blogosphere friend Mitchell Rubinstein who writes the Adjunct Law Prof Blog has published a new law review article "Parents As Quasi-Therapists Under The Individuals With Disabilities Act", 76 Univ. Cinn. L. Rev. 899 (July 2008). The article addresses the challenging issue of whether parents should be reimbursed under IDEA when they serve as quasi-therapists for their own children. Due process hearing officers and courts sometimes face this and similar issues regarding relief that should be awarded to prevailing parents and students. You can link to the entire article here:

As usual, we found a wealth of other useful information in this law review article, especially in the footnotes. I really enjoyed the portion of Mitch's article that talks about the early days of special education law. This topic relates to my last post "Independence Day" in which I argue that we have come a long way baby. For example, in the law review article, there is a citation to a 1919 Wisconsin decision which upholds the exclusion of a student with paralysis from public school because his condition and ailment produced "... a depressing and nauseating effect upon the teachers and school children." Although the article credits the many states that did provide an appropriate education to students with disabilities, there is also a quote by a journalist who in the year that IDEA was passed observed a public school with “rows and rows of children and adults strapped to their chairs in a dimly lit room, a cacophony of moans and screams.” Although special education law has a checkered history, we have come a long way.
Today, the article notes, nearly seven million children receive special education because of IDEA. The article also notes the link between poverty and disability stating that 36% of those seven million kids live in households with an income below $25,000 and another 32 % between $25,000 and $50,000. We have previously commented at this blog on the link between poverty and the ability to learn as well as our strong impression that the IDEA procedural safeguards, especially the dispute resolution mechanisms, are primarily the province of wealthier parents and students. The article also notes the racial disparity, a disproportionate number of African-American children receive special education. We still have a way to go.
I highly recommend Mitch's law review article.

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