Senator Lowell Weicker and John Doyle

Selected segment from interview with Thomas McCann on MARC Matters

Video Source: MARC inc. of Manchester

Thomas McCann:Public Law 94-142 now known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act once faced massive resistance during President Reagan's term. Why then was resistance given to thousands of letters in support of it?

Senator Lowell Weicker: All right first of all I knew this law as the Education of all Handicapped children, Education for All Handicapped Children Act. That was its original name. I like the original name because it reminds me of the fact that until that law was passed people with disabilities couldn't get an education in a public school. I mean if you can believe it in the United States children could not get a public school education.

Senator Lowell Weicker:My son, Sonny Weicker, has been educated under that law. And indeed since that law has been passed, which goes to show that, you know sometimes things aren't, sometimes good things apply to everybody.

That law worked when the disabled started to mainstream in our society because they had an education. Because it worked we passed another law called Birth to Three. Which means that disabled, young disabled men and women were educated literally from the time they were born. And we now know, it use to be that people said 'Oh education only counts for anybody when you're in your teens', we now know it counts from the minute you're born.

So I just can't emphasize more strongly the importance of education for the disabled. And I can't emphasize more strongly the fact that when they start giving out the public school money the public school systems, most of them, tried to duck under the law and not give that education to disabled children.

Which brings me to the last point, which is everybody thinks that sort of warm and fuzzy thoughts about Ronald Reagan. I don't have any warm and fuzzy thoughts about Ronald Reagan. He tried to cut this program so that the education would not be available, and I think… thank God that even up to today at least the law is on the books whether or not people are paying attention that remains to be seen.

John, maybe you'd like to comment.

John Doyle: Well, the only thing I'd add Senator is that in direct answer to your question Tom I don't think people here in Connecticut or around the country really knew what then-President Reagan had proposed namely to repeal this law; do away with it; take it off the books, and to cut the funding way way back.

Senator Weicker and our staff did a lot of work to inform people to let people like you know, to let people like Ed Preneta that runs the State DD Council here in Connecticut you know what was going on and that they should contact their elected officials and make sure they oppose what then-President was trying to do. And Senator Weicker led that fight and it was a long fight.

In your question you asked about the thousands of letters that were sent, well those were only sent after Senator Weicker asked people that were concerned to send them.

Thomas McCann:So in other words, it seems like you guys didn't get any response back.

John Doyle: Not initially…

Thomas McCann: Positive response.

John Doyle: Not initially that's right. But it did come and it came in the form of letters it came in the form of protests and finally President Reagan and his Education Secretary backed down and they stopped trying to repeal the law and repeal the regulations and cut the funding. But it was a long fight.