Tuesday, November 30, 2010

IDEA - A Gift To Us All

Yesterday marked the thirty fifth anniversary of one of the most far-reaching and good pieces of Federal law making in recent history; the passage of PL94-142 or IDEA, the Individual Differences in Education Act. Basically this law states that all students have the right to a free and appropriate education regardless of any disabilities they might have. You can read more about the impact of the law here at OSERS or here at CEC. I was in the second year of teaching fourth grade in England at the time and can remember the impact of the equivalent law there so clearly.

Up until that time all students with special needs of any sort in any grade level were collected together in Mrs. Fowler's class. I know she did her best but there was very little expectation that the students would learn very much. I remember them all congregating together in a corner of the playground during recess. The following year, 1976 I think it was, the Special Needs class was disbanded and the students "mainstreamed" to the appropriate grade throughout the school.

The change in the school was stunning and I remember it so clearly all these years later. I had two students, a boy and girl come into my class and although I don't remember their names I do remember they were both ethnic West Indian. Within six months, the time between reading assessments, both of their statistical reading ages had increased by more than two and a half years but, more importantly, they had made friends of their own age with whom they played during recess and after school. Gone was the stigma of Mrs Fowler's Special Class and in it's place a school-wide increase in the level of expectations of what the students with special needs could achieve.
The picture is of Andrew my son, who has Down Syndrome, making his assigned presentation in his H.S. social studies class about his chosen topic, Saudi Arabia.

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