Online Degrees Blog Timeline of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Timeline of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

01 April

Special Education licensure and endorsement varies from state to state, as does the terminology used in describing the knowledge that is required and the students to whom it applies. In general, the terms “high-incidence,” “adaptive,” “cross-categorical” and “multi-categorical” have similar meanings.

In November of 2015, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of landmark legislation that removed barriers for children with learning disabilities to attend the same public schools as those who didn’t require unique educational accommodations. Let us better understand the social impact of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, otherwise known as IDEA. Visit our infographic on the 40 years of impact.

The original law, P. 94-142, known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, explained that of the eight million children in the U.S. with disabilities, more than half of them did not receive an appropriate education. The students who were allowed to attend public school were often placed into special classrooms that separated them from the rest of the student body and failed to support their specific learning needs.

It’s unfathomable to think that this was the norm in the public education sector just 40 years ago. However, the sweeping changes that have happened since then are indicative of the power of public policy to benefit those who may be unable to adequately speak for themselves.

Here is a brief timeline of the history of IDEA and its impact on millions of students in this country:

May 17, 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court decided in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that it was unconstitutional for educational institutions to segregate children by race. This landmark legal ruling would have far-reaching implications for the special education arena.

April 9, 1965: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson as part of the “War on Poverty.” ESEA not only called for equal access to education for all students but also federal funding for both primary and secondary education for students disadvantaged by poverty.

October 8, 1971: In the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sided in favor of students with intellectual and learning disabilities in state-run institutions. PARC v. Penn called for students with disabilities to be placed in publicly funded school settings that met their individual educational needs, based on a proper and thorough evaluation.

December 17, 1971: In the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia case, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia students classified as “exceptional”—including those with mental and learning disabilities and behavioral issues. This ruling made it unlawful for the D.C. Board of Education to deny these individuals access to publicly funded educational opportunities.

Congressional Investigation of 1972: In the wave of the PARC and Mills ruling, [AR1] Congress set out to uncover how many children with special education needs were being underserved. The Bureau of Education for the Handicapped found that there were eight million children requiring special education services. Of this total, 3.9 million students adequately had their educational needs met, 2.5 million were receiving a substandard education and 1.75 million weren’t in school.

November 29, 1975: President Gerald Ford signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, otherwise known as Public Law 94-142. This law required all states that accepted money from the federal government were required to provide equal access to education for children with disabilities, in addition to providing them with one free meal per day. States had the responsibility to ensure compliance under the law within all of their public school systems.

October 8, 1976: Public Law 99-457 was an amendment to the All Handicapped Children Act, which mandated that individual states provide services to families of children born with disabilities from the time they are born. Previously, these services were not available until a child reached the age of three.

August 6, 1986: President Reagan signed the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act, a law that gave parents of children with disabilities more say in the development of their child’s Individual Education Plan, or IEP.

January 1, 1990: Public Law 101-476 called for significant changes to Public Law 94-142, or the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Traumatic brain injury and autism were added as new disability categories. Additionally, Congress mandated that as a part of a student’s IEP, an individual transition plan, or ITP, must be developed to help the student transition to post-secondary life.

June 4, 1990: The Education for all Handicapped Children’s Act became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. President Clinton reauthorized IDEA with several key amendments that emphasized providing all students with access to the same curriculum, additionally, states were given the authority to expand the “developmental delay” definition from birth through five years of age to also include students between the ages of six and nine.

December 3, 2004: Congress amended IDEA by calling for early intervention for students, greater accountability, and improved educational outcomes, and raised the standards for instructors who teach special education classes. It also required states to demand that local school districts shift up to 15% of their special education funds toward general education if it were determined that a disproportionate number of students from minority groups were placed in special education for reasons other than disability.

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1. Retrieved on August 24, 2021, from