With help. The law mandates that school districts

With all the different types of people out there, how do we make sure that every child gets a good education? In this lesson, we’ll examine one of the laws that tries to answer that question: the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

Education for All

Imagine that you are in school.

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You’re excited and really want to learn. But there’s a problem: your teacher seems to be talking in a completely different language. Not only that, all the other students around you understand what she’s saying, and you’re left out.

You feel frustrated and alone, and when you ask your school to provide you with a translator so that you can understand, they say they don’t provide that service to students. You’re on your own.This was the situation for many students in the 1970s, when special education students often struggled in classrooms and were not provided with services that could help them learn.

But all that changed in 1975, when President Gerald Ford signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which outlined what needed to be done to provide an education for special needs students.Let’s look closer at the act and its impact on education.


Remember when you were struggling to understand your teacher and fellow students, and you asked your school for a translator? They said that they didn’t provide that service to you, and you were just out of luck.The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was a follow-up to earlier legislation that provided federal funding to school districts to help them educate special needs students.

But the earlier legislation didn’t mandate what the school districts had to do; so many special needs students weren’t provided with an acceptable education because districts said that they didn’t provide services that the students needed. Just like when you asked for a translator, many students were turned away.The act outlined six mandates that states must follow in order to receive federal funding.

They are:

1. Zero reject

The law states that every student is entitled to FAPE, or free and appropriate public education. This means that schools cannot send a student away just because they have special needs.

For example, if a student is in a wheelchair and the school district does not have a school with a wheelchair ramp, they will have to build one or find another way to make the school accessible for that student.

2. Nondiscriminatory identification and evaluation

Before the act, many students with special needs had not been evaluated or identified. For example, a student with a learning disability might just struggle through school, failing classes and never getting help.

The law mandates that school districts put into place a program that allows them to identify and evaluate students who might need extra help and that they identify and evaluate students without discrimination.

3. Individualized educational program

An individualized educational program, or IEP for short, is a written plan outlining how the school will meet the individual needs of the student. For example, a student who has a learning disability involving numbers may have a plan that includes extra tutoring twice a week to help him with numbers and math.

5. Due process

Due process is a term that covers a lot of ground. It is a set of checks and balances to make sure that the students are protected and families have recourse if a child’s needs are not met. These can include things like requiring parental permission to evaluate a student for special education, keeping the child’s information confidential, and allowing parents to appeal if a school is not providing services that the student needs.

For example, remember the student whose IEP says that he needs twice-weekly tutoring to help with numbers? If the school is not providing the tutoring, his parents can appeal to force the school to provide it.

6. Parental participation

This mandate specifically states that schools must be in touch with parents and provide them with any information they request, including seeing their child’s IEP and educational records. Before, a school did not have to communicate or provide information to parents, and many parents were left in the dark about their children.

But with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, schools were mandated to provide information to parents that would help them be involved in their child’s education.


As you can probably guess, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act had a large impact on education. There were three types of people that the act influenced:

1. Students

Clearly, the focus of the act was on students, and it changed education for them. After the act, schools could no longer say that they didn’t offer a service that a student needed.

Schools were required to provide a solid education to all students. As a result, students with special needs found that their educational opportunities changed dramatically for the better.Further, many students who had been isolated were able to move into mainstream classes, thanks to the least restrictive environment mandate.

This alone made a huge impact on students’ learning and emotional relationship to education.

2. Parents and families

Thanks to the parental participation mandate, parents could no longer be shut out of the process of educating their children. They were kept in the loop and have a say in what happened.

Further, the due process mandate ensured that families had recourse if a child’s needs weren’t being met. If a school did not provide a special education student with an IEP, for example, parents could fight the district to make sure that their child received an IEP and every service necessary and appropriate.

3. Educators

Though the focus of the act was on the students and parents, it also changed schools.

IEPs are written by a multidisciplinary team, which includes teachers, school counselors or psychologists, and others. As a result, educators had to work together, and the focus shifted from being about the child in the context of one classroom to the child as a whole. A math teacher who had, in the past, only thought of a student in the math classroom, suddenly had to think about how that child did in history and English classes, too. This was a big change in the way educators worked!

Lesson Summary

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 outlined six mandates that schools must follow with regards to educating special needs students:

  1. Zero reject, including providing free and appropriate public education, or FAPE
  2. Nondiscriminatory identification and evaluation of special education students
  3. Individualized educational program, or IEP, to outline how each student would be educated
  4. The least restrictive environment, which provided students the opportunity to be educated in the mainstream classroom if it met their need
  5. Due process for families who feel their child’s needs aren’t being met
  6. Parental participation in the process

The impact of the act was far-reaching and changed things for the better for students, parents, and educators.

Learning Outcomes

Achieve these objectives as you view this lesson:

  • Interpret the Education for All Handicapped Children Act
  • List the mandates that states had to follow in order to receive federal funding
  • Consider the impact that the act had on students, parents and educators

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