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It was only in 1984 that the last state, New Mexico, decided to participate in federal funding through P. L. 94-142 and IDEA.

On the issue of student placement in the least restrictive environment, there was little change.

  • In 1985-86, 25% of students with disabilities spent most of their time in general classes, 44% in resource rooms, 25% in special classes, and 5% in separate schools and residential programs. This distribution was basically the same as that in 1975 when P. L. 94-142 was passed.
  • An analysis of U.S. Department of Education reports found that in the years between 1977 and 1990, placements of students with disabilities changed little. By 1990, for example, only 1.2 percent more students with disabilities were in general education classes and resource room environments: 69.2 percent in 1990 compared with 68 percent in 1977. Placements of students with disabilities in separate classes declined by only 0.5 percent: 24.8 percent in 1990 compared with 25.3 percent in 1977. And students with disabilities educated in separate public schools or other separate facilities declined by only 1.3 percent: 5.4 percent of students with disabilities in 1990 compared with 6.7 percent of students with disabilities in 1977.
Teacher and students in a classroom
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden.

The IDEA and court cases supported a change in direction that did not appear to be unfolding. For instance, in 1983, Roncker v. Walter challenged the assignment of students to disability specific programs and schools. The ruling favored inclusion and found that placement decisions must be determined on an individual basis.

It is not enough for a district to simply claim that a segregated program is superior. In a case where the segregated facility is considered superior, the court should determine whether the services which make the placement superior could be feasibly provided in a non-segregated setting (i.e., regular class). If they can, the placement in the segregated school would be inappropriate under the act (IDEA). (Roncker v. Walter, 1983, at 1063)

Nevertheless, unfortunately, there were many indications that practices continued to violate the purpose of the IDEA and court decisions.

Child sitting in a chair
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.