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The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that for more than 20 years (1975 to 1997), the EHA/IDEA remained largely unchanged..

  • Between 1979 and 1994, a series of amendments to the EHA refined and increased the number of discretionary programs in personnel preparation, research, demonstration and technical assistance.
  • Amendments were offered in 1986 (P.L. 99-457) which added a mandate for preschool programs for age 3-5 and planning for early intervention programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities.
  • In 1990, the EHA/94-142 was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P. L. 101-476) and amended. In addition to changing terminology from "handicap" to "disability", it mandated transition services and added autism and traumatic brain injury to the eligibility list.

Throughout the history of the IDEA, one of the biggest challenges has been compliance. The intent of P. L. 94-142 was bolstered in 1994 when the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs issued policy guidelines stating that school districts cannot use the lack of adequate personnel or resources as an excuse for failing to make a free and appropriate education available, in the least restrictive environment, to students with disabilities. This guideline, however, is similar to the 1972 court ruling that said much the same thing.

Child sitting at a table
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden.

Schools and local authorities continued to take their time to implement the law. Many schools and districts have been educating students with disabilities in segregated settings for years, yet families often have to fight to get their children into general education classrooms and inclusive environments.

This in spite of the fact that court cases have determined that families do not have to prove to the school that a student with disabilities can function in the general classroom.

In Oberti v. Board of Education of the Borough of Clementon School District (1993), for example, the U.S. circuit court determined that the neighborhood school had not supplied a student with the supports and resources he needed to be successful in an inclusive classroom.

The judge also ruled that the school had failed to provide appropriate training for his educators and support staff. The court placed the burden of proof for compliance with the law's inclusion requirements squarely on the school district and the state instead of on the family.

In other words, the school had to show why this student could not be educated in general education with aids and services, and his family did not have to prove why he could. The federal judge who decided the case stated, "Inclusion is a right, not a special privilege for a select few."

Children and adults interacting
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden