Special Education Law

The PARC suit was representative of the growing determination on the part of parents of the severely handicapped to forge a place for their children within the public school systems. The plaintiffs in these suits were frequently members of what commentators called the unprepossessing groups, such as minorities, mental patients, and the handicapped, who experienced exclusion, deprivation, or some form of differential and unfair treatment (Eisenberg and Yeazell, 1980, pp.

511-512). As in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), these groups asked the courts to change the practices of the public school systems whose operational procedures traditionally resulted in the denial of their constitutional rights. The PARC suit challenged laws and practices that effectively excluded severely handicapped children from the public schools.

The consent agreement, ratified by the court in 1972, established that mentally retarded children are capable of benefiting from an education. The consent decree mandated the provision of free public programs of instruction for all retarded persons, ages six through twenty-one, appropriate to their learning capacities. The decree also required timely notice to parents, individualized evaluations and plans, and due process review procedures by disinterested parties in the event of contested school decisions.

The agreement further stipulated that the state submit plans for identifying all previously excluded children, and for appropriate educational programs, including their range, location, funding, and staffing. The orders specified timetables for compliance and provided for appointment of two masters with expertise in the field of special education to oversee the implementation of the decree and to hear members of the plaintiff class “who may be aggrieved by the implementation of this order”(PARC v.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1972). Finally, the court retained jurisdiction over the case until it heard the final report of the masters. The decree was the most elaborate statement of the educational rights of retarded children issued to that date and was viewed as a major victory by advocates for handicapped children. PARC, along with other cases on point, subsequently became the foundation for the federal law with respect to the rights of handicapped children (Rosenberg and Phillips, 1981-82, p. 100).