The Convergence of Disability Law and Policy: Core Concepts, Ethical Communities, and the Notion of Dignity
Interview with Rud Turnbull
Produced by Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
The Conceptual Framework of P.L. 94-142
Rud Turnbull: Then I wrote a book, and it was first book ever written about Public Law 94-142. It's got a very simple name, Free Appropriate Public Education, which is the theme of the statute. It was a book explaining the law. But it didn't explain just the law, it identified the six major principles of that statute, and those six principles have held true ever since 1977 or '76 when I wrote that book until today 2014. They are a conceptual framework that makes it easy to understand the law. There have been other books since then, but mine is the oldest in the marketplace.
Now, at the point when President Reagan was elected to be President in his first term of office, he had campaigned on a theory of getting government, big government off people's back. And one of his primary ways of defederalizing education, of defederalizing human services generally, was to attack the regulations under Public Law 94-142.
The theory was that if we could persuade the Department of Education Health Education and Welfare, and Congress to loosen up some of the regulations, indeed to deregulate, then we could attack the statute itself and repeal the statute. That would clearly get the federal government out of the business of education and it would be the first step to getting the federal government out of the many other social service and human services. Well, you can imagine that strategy was provocative to say the least.
Senator Weicker, again, a Republican of Connecticut, convened a hearing in Washington on deregulation. There were three panels of witnesses, and I was one of the witnesses on the second panel. The first panel consisted of one person who was the Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell. He began his testimony and Senator Weicker reached into his pocket, pulled out a document and said, "Mr. Secretary, let me interrupt you for a second.
I want to read to you a letter that your deputy sent to within the Department as a statement of the Department's position. And it says, among other things, that we have to be very clever about what we're doing in deregulating because the parents are our enemies. The parents of children with disabilities are our enemies." "Mr. Secretary," said Senator Weicker, "Does that represent the position of the Department of Education?" Well, the hearing was over, as far as I was concerned. Weicker had Terrel Bell right where he wanted him.
But I talked at that hearing, as I have done at other Congressional testimony, about IDEA, about the effect the intended effect and the actual effect of that statute, and I could tell then the story about how the school bus came past our house on the first day of school and did not pick up Jay Turnbull to take him to school and it didn't pick him up because he wasn't on the school rolls. He went on the ancillary roll as a person with a disability.
Now that started another issue down in North Carolina when we finally got Jay educated. But the notion of defederalizing education became a concern of mine, namely, how do we keep the federal government properly involved in an issue – education – that traditionally has been a matter of federal excuse me, of state and local concern, particularly, local concern.