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In the late 1940s and 1950s, local Arc groups were involved in establishing and operating special classes that served only individuals with disabilities. Parents and parent groups who desired educational services for their sons and daughters in public schools began to organize and took their issues to the courts and the legislatures of the nation.

In the 1950s, a series of federal legislative provisions established grants for research and training of personnel in the education of children with disabilities. Some states began to adopt special education provisions. For instance, in 1957, Minnesota required public school districts to provide special instruction and services for children with certain disabilities, typically individuals with disabilities that had higher IQ scores. Children with significant disabilities were not served.

On many fronts, the most important educational event of the 1950s was Brown vs. The Board of Education. The court ruled that the right and opportunity to an education must be made available to all on equal terms. The "all" at that point meant people of "all races".

Brown made no reference to children with disabilities. It did, however, provide the basis for 1971 and 1972 court decisions in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., which extended the right to a free public education to children with disabilities. Therefore, Brown was a pivotal law in the pathway for providing a free, appropriate public education for all students.

Individuals in a room
Photo courtesy William Bronston M.D.