Landmark Cases in Special Education

The first federal laws designed to assist individuals with disabilities date back to the early days of the nation. In 1798, the Fifth Congress passed the first federal law concerned with the care of persons with disabilities (Braddock, 1987; cited in NICHCY, 1997). This law authorized a Maine Hospital Service to provide medical services to sick and disabled seamen. By 1912, this service became known as Public Health Service. However, prior to World War II, there were relatively few federal laws authorizing special benefits for persons with disabilities. Those that existed were intended to address the needs of war veterans with service-connected disabilities. This meant that, for most of our nation's history, schools were allowed to exclude-and often did exclude-certain children, especially those with disabilities.

In 1948, only 12% of all children with disabilities received some form of special education. By the early 1950s, special education services and programs were available in school districts, but often, undesirable results occurred. For example, students in special classes were considered unable to perform academic tasks. Consequently, they went to special schools or classes that focused on learning manual skills such as weaving and bead stringing. Although programs existed, it was clear that discrimination was still as strong as ever for those with disabilities in schools. (Register to read more ...)