The first national piece of legislation mandating appropriate and free education for students with disabilities was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in November 1975. The law was to be in effect by September 1, 1978. This single piece of legislation has been the cornerstone of special education legislation for the past twenty-five years. Below you can read about the law and its impact on the major stakeholders involved in the education and lives of individuals with disabilities. You can learn more about these aspects of PL 94-142 in this area of the web site.
Overview and Synopsis of the Law
Federal legislation, such as PL 94-142, served as a tool for the government to provide improved and equalized learning opportunities for all students and to "bring qualified people into special education" (Kirk, Gallagher, & Anastasiow, 2000, p. 71). The federal government assumed responsibility and laid the foundation for states to enact policies and guarantee services for the appropriate education of students with disabilities. Six key mandates are outlined in 94-142 and continue to serve as the guiding principle in serving students with special needs (Kirk, et al., 2000; Turnbull & Turnbull, 1998). States receiving federal funds were required to comply with the federal mandates. These include:
- Zero Reject/FAPE. This mandate specified that all children, regardless of ability, are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Local school systems were mandated to serve children ages 6-17 (and ages 3-5 and 18-21 if the state also educated nondisabled children in those age groups).
- Nondiscriminatory Identification and Evaluation. In order to address inequitable practices resulting in misidentification and placement of individuals into special education (such as culturally and linguistically diverse children) this mandate identified several essential safeguards. These included assessments which were: (a) administered in a child's primary language, (b) given by qualified personnel, (c) tailored to assess specific areas of need (not just IQ tests), (d) comprised of more than one procedure, (e) selected so as not to discriminate against the child's disability, and (f) administered by a multidisciplinary team in all areas related to the suspected disability.
- Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP must be written for each student with an identified disability. Each IEP is uniquely designed to meet the individual needs of a particular student. A team of individuals known as the IEP team meet annually to develop or up-date the IEP for all students receiving special education or related services. The IEP team consists of professionals, parents, and child, as appropriate. IEPs must include the following statements or information: (a) present levels of educational performance, (b) measurable annual goals including benchmark or short term objectives, (c) objective criteria and evaluation procedures, (d) specific special education and related services, (e) extent of participation in general education and an explanation of non-participation, (f) modifications to the general education environment, (g) projected dates for initiation and duration of services, and (h) annual evaluation of progress made on the IEP. IEP teams can convene at any time, but must meet at least annually.
You can view a sample IEP by linking to the Teaching Tools section of our web site.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). PL 94-142 mandates that "To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institution or other care facilities, are to be educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in the regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily." The concept of LRE necessitates that children with and without disabilities should be educated together unless it does not meet the child's needs. "The philosophy is to move as close to the normal setting (regular classroom) as feasible for each child" (Kirk, et. al, 2000, p. 73).
- Due Process. Due Process is a system of checks and balances to ensure accountability and fairness for students with disabilities and their families. "Families and school districts can exercise their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process..." (Hunt & Marshall, 1999, p. 15). These procedures include the following: (a) written parental permission for evaluation for special education, (b) written parental permission prior to placement in special education program, (c) parent right to review and question any of their child's records, (d) parental right to an independent educational evaluation for their child, (e) parents (and school officials) have a right to a hearing, to present evidence, to have a lawyer present, and to call and confront witnesses, (f) parents and school officials have the right to appeal, and (g) confidentiality concerning students and their families must be maintained.
- Parental Participation. Parents have the right to be included in placement decision, IEP development and evaluation. Schools should collaborate and communicate consistently with family members. Parents also have the right to access their child's educational records.
Impact of the Law on Children and Families
One of the fundamental impacts of 94-142 involved a provision of services to children. No longer could the absence of a particular type of "service," "setting" or "professional expertise" serve as an excuse for denial of educational services or opportunity. Families were provided with assurances and a means of redress if educational services were believed to be less than appropriate or adequate for their child. The parent and family members were also identified as vital members of the IEP team in designing an educational program for their child.
Implications for Teachers and Professionals
In designing an appropriate education for students with disabilities, 94-142 underscores the importance of the collaborative process . This is evidenced in the nature of the multidisciplinary and IEP teams. Membership on these teams includes professional from a variety of backgrounds (e.g., teachers, administrators, related service personnel) as well as students, parents and other advocates. Team members must utilize the resources and expertise of their colleagues in improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities.
Effective, on-going communication and collaboration among all team members is essential in order for the mandates and the spirit of the law to be upheld.
Additionally, the law clearly outlines the need for an individualized planning process. Clearly, appropriate preservice preparation and inservice training is needed in order to best meet the needs of students with disabilities. Finally, 94-142 holds educators and other professionals accountable for the education of all students and provides a means to address any perceived inadequacies in the process.
Resources and References on PL 94-142
- Hunt, N., & Marshall, K. (1999). Exceptional children and youth (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Kirk, S. A., Gallagher, J. J., & Anastasiow, N. J. (2000). Educating exceptional children (9th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Turnbull, H. R. III, & Turnbull, A. P. (1998). Free and appropriate public education: The law and children with disabilities (5th ed.). Denver, CO: Love Publishing Company.
- Ysseldyke, J. E., Algozzine, B., & Thurlow, M. L. (2000). Critical issues in special education (3rd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.