Letter from the Executive Director:
It is both a blessing and a curse to have been a professional educator when first, Public Act 94-142 and Article 509, in the mid seventies revolutionized and codified into law the beginnings of our humanization of treatment for children and adults who had special education needs. It was only as recently as 1972 that a mother in a Midwestern state was arrested because she insisted on bringing her handicapped child to school every day, and every day was turned away in that the school had denied the child admission to school according to their then legal right to do so.
Memorialized in the movie Forrest Gump, and etched into my core, is the scene where a determined Sallie Fields takes to her bed the school principal in exchange for him allowing Forrest to attend school. The principle had denied Forrest admission to the public school because he had a lower IQ then was determined to be necessary in order to benefit from a public education.
Let us not forget that the horror that was the Pennhurst Institution for the retarded and which did not shut its doors until 1988. It was alleged that an approved intervention was that emotionally disturbed and mentally challenged residents who were biters, had their teeth removed.
The painful question remains, that if there had been no civil rights movement; the obvious building block and precursor to the anti-discrimination laws regarding the handicapped, and subsequent passage of Public Act 94-142 and 509, how long would our needy children and adults have continued to languish, out of sight out of mind, in a netherworld that provided little hope and few services
I became an educator in 1969 with high hopes, great expectations, and a sophomoric belief in a system that I thought always tried to do the right, as opposed to the expedient thing for kids. Not understanding the full extent of the needs to be served, I even remember that we as educators thought that 94-142 and 509 were acts which would provide enhanced opportunities for the physically and intellectually handicapped. It never entered my mind that an equally great impact would take place among those with emotional and psychological needs.
It is my understanding that futurists speak of great revolutions of man bordered by periods of greatest change, which are known as interfaces. These are where dissimilar masses of energy meet, and where the greatest energy is exchanged. Education for those with special needs is a great societal revolution, and we are in its interface. Education for those with special needs is in its infancy. And every citizen in this nation stands at the vanguard of making a difference in the lives of children, adults and their families.
Great societies are always evaluated, in retrospect, by how they have behaved toward those that they govern. How did they treat their elderly, their poor, their infirm, their disabled, and even their vanquished defeated enemies. We have the chance to reverse much of the neglect, and failures of our society to address the special education needs of our disabled children and adults through aggressive, compassionate educational programs for them…….
The ball is in our court.