PART ONE. Influences of Court Cases on the Enactment of the Special Education Law The underpinnings for many pieces of legislation can be found in case law. P. L. 94-142 is no exception- This section will review some major court cases that laid the foundations of P. L. 94-142. Public Law 94-142 evolved from the provisions of the decree in Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1972).
The decree was based on a consent agreement reached by the litigants in the above cited class action suit filed on behalf of the named retarded children, and all children similarly situated, who were excluded from the public schools because of their mental disabilities. But let us firstly consider some landmark court cases leading to enactment of Public Law 94-142. After PARC v. Commonwealth, two of the judicial decisions most frequently cited in the literature as the strongest precursors to P. L.
94-142 are Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and Mills v. the Board of Education in the District of Columbia (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1998). Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, hereafter referred to simply as Brown, the original school desegregation case is often considered in various contexts. First, Brown is cited as a landmark “civil rights” decision made by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1954, overturning the 1869 Supreme Court case Plessy v.
Ferguson (Walker, 1995). In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court had previously interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to mean that States could require the separation of races in public institutions, if those institutions were equal (Ascik, 1985). This became known as the “separate but equal” doctrine (Kluger, 1975). Brown is often considered in terms of both civil rights and as the first significant federal action related to national education policy setting (Wong, 1999).
Stickney and Marcus (1984) combine the two contexts when they noted that Brown was a landmark case because it “opened the schools to federal scrutiny in order to guarantee that the ‘equal protection’ and ‘due process’ clauses of the Constitution do not stop at the schoolhouse door” (p. 129). Remarking on the same event, Cookson (1995) noted that the … Brown v. Board of Education decision marked the beginning of federal intervention in educational policymaking. Since 1954….
state and federal judicial activity has increased federal authority in education matters, because the national government is responsible for ensuring that rights of all citizens, no matter what their state of residence, (pp. 408-409). The dual effect of the Brown decision is important to recognize. For like Brown. P. L. 94-142 is often characterized by its critics as a vehicle by which the Federal government has expanded its control over state education policies (Wong, 1999).
The special education literature cites Brown almost exclusively in terms of civil rights for students with disabilities (Rains, 1998). Turnbull and Turnbull (1998) noted that although Brown was not a case about students with disabilities, it had tremendous implications for educating students with disabilities, many of whom, at the time, were being entirely excluded from education. These implications did not go unrecognized by advocates of children with disabilities. According to Zettel and Ballard (1979), shortly after the Brown decision,