52 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 38: 1 2018]
in five students with disabilities. 28 By the mid-seventies, many states had laws excluding children
with disabilities from receiving education alongside their non-disabled peers. 29 Some children
were undiagnosed, which prevented them from receiving the services they needed to be successful
in school. 30 Moreover, the lack of resources available within the public schools forced parents of
children with disabilities to seek educational services outside of the public system. 31
This changed in 1975, when Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children
Act (EHA). 32 This Act required, “that all children [ages three to twenty-one] with disabilities have
available to them ... a free appropriate public education” by establishing procedures to protect the
rights of children with disabilities and to assist states and localities in providing services for these
children. 33 The law aimed to make four improvements: ( 1) properly identifying children with
disabilities, ( 2) improving how the success of these efforts is measured, ( 3) managing due process
protections for claims made by families with children with disabilities, and ( 4)authorizing
additional federal funds to provide states with needed resources for compliance. 34 This landmark
legislation helped support the education of over one million children with disabilities who had
previously been excluded, in part or in whole, from receiving an appropriate public education. 35
Sue’s story is a great illustration of the positive impact this legislation has had on the lives
of children with disabilities. 36 She was born in 1950 with no sight as well as with cognitive
disabilities. 37 By the time the EHA was passed in 1975, Sue was twenty-five years old. 38 This
legislation enabled Sue to attend school for the first time. 39 After just one year of receiving
educational services through public school, Sue learned how to eat with utensils, walk with a cane,
and carry on social conversations. 40 The public education she received through EHA allowed her
to live independently as an adult. 41
Since the EHA’s enactment forty-one years ago, the evolution of special needs education
has been reflected in its various amendments. 42 The amendments of 1986 mandated that state
services be provided for children with disabilities from birth, whereas previously it had been from
three years to age twenty-one. 43 Various amendments passed between 1983 and 1997 focused on
high school to adult living transitional services. 44 These amendments required that every IEP
29 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c)( 2)(b) (2012).
30 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c)( 2)(c).
31 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c)( 2)(d).
32 EHA, supra note 19.
33 Office of Special Educ. & Rehab Services, supra note 16, at 5 (quoting EHA).
34 Office of Special Educ. & Rehab Services, supra note 16, at 5 (discussing the changes P.L. 94-142 made to the
35 Id. at 5–6.
36 Id. at 3.
40 Office of Special Educ. & Rehab Services, supra note 16, at 3.
42 See generally Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986, 99 Pub. L. 457, 100 Stat. 1145 (1986).
43 Office of Special Educ. & Rehab Services, supra note 16, at 6 (citing the EHA Amendments of 1986, 99 Pub. L.
457, 100 Stat. 1145 (1986)).
44 Id. at 6 (citing EHA Amendments of 1983, 98 Pub. L. 199, 97 Stat. 1357 (1983); EHA Amendments of 1990, 101
Pub. L. 476, 104 Stat. 1103 (1990); IDEA Improvement Act of 1997, 105 Pub. L. 17, 111 Stat. 37 (1997)).