Those jurisdictional limitations, however, were removed when Congress passed IDEA. With IDEA, the federal government took on the role of dictating educational policy to state departments of education and local school boards. Whereas Diana, PARC, and Mills addressed specific cases within specific jurisdictions, IDEA now applied the same standards and procedures to all cases within all schools in the United States. Schools, for example, had less control over which students would receive special education services and which would not.
The nature of special education services also changed, as schools were forced to comply with the standards of the new national law. The effect on schools was immediate and dramatic. Between 1976 and 1999, special education enrollment in public schools in the United States increased from 3. 7 million to 6. 1 million. By 2001, one in ten children in the United States received some kind of special education services (Seligmann, 2001).
While applying the same standards to all states and all schools has an egalitarian appeal that is consistent with American ideas of democracy and fairness, problems arise when policies are applied in a blanket manner which fails to recognize the unique needs of individual students or of individual schools. As the Supreme Court noted in Rowley, problems also arise when the professional judgment of educators is dismissed or overruled by parents or agencies. Education is an inherently political issue.
The Framers of the Constitution, which included the founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, felt that the establishment of educational policy was best left to the various states to decide as they saw fit. The 20th century saw a steady erosion of state and local control over the public schools within their respective domains, first through the courts and eventually through federal laws that included economic incentives and punishments for noncompliance. One of the areas that has been significantly affected by federal law has been special education.
It is true that cases like Mills and PARC illustrate the very real need for courts and government agencies to intervene on behalf of students who are not receiving an appropriate education. Just as it is unlikely that racial integration would have occurred without the leadership of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, it is also unlikely that discrimination of students who have disabilities would have occurred without the leadership of the courts in cases like PARC, Mills, and others.
The precedents that were established by these cases, however, have created onerous economic and administrative burdens on state and local school systems. These burdens are increased by unfunded mandates such as IDEA, in which funds that are promised y Congress are never delivered to school districts, yet districts are penalized for noncompliance regardless of their economic circumstances. Increased special education enrollment has led to increased strain on school budgets.
It is possible that one of the reasons why American students perform so poorly on tests that compare them with students from other Western nations is because schools in the United States are required to spend so much more money and dedicate such a large portion of their resources to meeting the needs of special education students. This perspective suggests that if the United States is to once again become a leader or even a competitor in a global economy, then more resources should be invested in teaching our brightest students.
In Rowley, the Supreme Court recognized the unrealistic demands and expectations that have been placed on schools and the services that schools provide for special education students. Holland also recognized that considerations about special education placement cannot be made in a vacuum, but must take several factors into consideration, including how such a placement will affect other, non-disabled students.
These are only two cases, however, and they have yet to be codified into law in the same way that the provisions of PARC were reflected in IDEA. Special education teachers and school administrators can help their schools and their students by explaining the realities of special education law to parents and, when appropriate, to students. Students are entitled to FAPE, but FAPE is limited to an education that is consistent with the quality of education that is delivered to all other students.
FAPE does not mean unlimited resources at no cost to the parent. Schools can also improve the educational outcomes of their special education students by explaining the benefits and complications of inclusion to the parents of their special education students. Instead of relying on blanket policies about inclusion, IEP teams should emphasize the individual nature of the student's IEP and develop a program that best meets the academic and social needs of the student.
Finally, schools must demonstrate to their students and to the parents of students who have disabilities that the decisions that are made about the student's education are based on what is best for the student.
Bargerhuff, M. , Kirch, S. , Turner, H. , and Wheatly, M. , (2005). Inclusive science education: Classroom teacher and science educator experiences in CLASS workshops. School Science and Mathematics, 105 (4), 175-184. Retrieved April 19, 2008, from www. Questia. com database.