Historical Timeline

                                                                Historical Timeline


Case 1


One case that shaped the way special education is practiced in the United States is the Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley which was decided by the Supreme Court on June 28, 1982.

The Republicans argued that the verdict infringed on parental rights. On the other hand, Democrats felt the verdict was necessary to guarantee children’s right to an equal education.

In this landmark decision, it was ruled that learning institutions should provide a free appropriate public education to all learners living with disabilities. They were also instructed to expose learners living with disabilities to an individualized education program (IEP) in a bid for meeting their needs (Oyez, 2022).

Public schools were instructed to expose students living with disability with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) as long as living with disability prevented them from achieving adequate progress in the general curriculum. It was also ruled that all school districts must determine what services need to be provided these learners for them to achieve adequate progress in the general curriculum. For these services to be deemed appropriate, they were to be calculated and adapted according to each child’s needs so that they can receive educational benefits from it.

This ruling has supported the needs of students living with disabilities by putting pressure on school districts to identify the services needed to adequately educate these students. Furthermore, this decision has required schools to develop IEPs for students who have been identified as living with disability and set annual goals for progress in acquiring skills such as speaking, reading, and writing.

Case 2


Another important case that has been pivotal in shaping the practice of special education is Plyler v. Doe, which was decided on 15th June 1982 by the United States Supreme Court.

The democrats argued that the ruling had a significant impact on how Americans educate children with disabilities because it established an obligation in a bid for providing free public education for all children residing within a state’s boundaries, including children with disabilities (Kooragayala, 2019). However, the Republicans considered that there should be provisions made so that these children are educated separately from other students and according to their individual needs.

In this landmark decision, it was ruled that education offered to children living with disabilities children must be equal to that provided for children who are not living with disabilities, or else they would not have an opportunity to benefit from education. In this regard, the judges perceived that all children, whether they were living with disabilities or not, deserved access to quality education that provides them with opportunities and social skills necessary to succeed as adults (United States Courts, 2022).

The court sided with the democrats’ argument and upheld the right to equal educational opportunity as outlined in the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling marked a crucial step towards dismantling segregationist practices that were previously widespread throughout many states, not just in Texas where Plyler v. Doe originated, but also nationwide as well as internationally.

This ruling has impacted the needs of students living with disability by widening educational opportunities, which in turn reduced discrepancies between students with and without disabilities (Kooragayala, 2019). Finally, this historical development has been instrumental in shaping policy changes to promote the inclusion of students with disability into general education classrooms.

Case 3


The third major influential case that shaped the way special education is practiced in the United States is Olmstead v. L.C. The ruling of this case was made on 22nd June 1999.

The Republicans argued that this verdict was an infringement of states’ rights. On the other hand, Democrats considered this decision necessary to protect people with disabilities from being institutionalized (Sloan & Gulrajani, 2019).

It was ruled that services cannot be denied to people living with a disability just because they are not institutionally situated. It also required public agencies to provide community-based services when such services are appropriate for a particular individual’s needs and desires (United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division, 2022).

The Supreme Court concluded that leaving any person with a disability without any supervision or care violates the ADA. It also found state law authorizing involuntary commitment and transfer for treatment for people with mental illness violated their due process rights under U.S. Constitution (Sloan & Gulrajani, 2019). The court observed involuntary authorization in this context since it does not provide for a hearing before a judicial officer and the opportunity to be heard before evidence can be admitted into court proceedings against them.

The Supreme Courts’ final verdict has impacted the needs of students living with disability by changing laws and enforcing more inclusive practices in public schools across America (Sloan & Gulrajani, 2019). In addition, it has opened doors for students who had previously been denied educational services because of their diagnosis.



Kooragayala, S. (2019). Preschool for all: Plyler V. Doe in the context of early childhood education. Nw. JL & Soc. Pol’y15, 98.

Oyez. (2022). Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1981/80-1002.

Sloan, L., & Gulrajani, C. (2019). Where we are on the Twentieth Anniversary of Olmstead v. LC. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law47, 408-13. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chinmoy-Gulrajani/publication/337826995_Where_We_are_on_the_Twentieth_Anniversary_of_Olmstead_v_LC/links/5e0671f8a6fdcc2837437d86/Where-We-are-on-the-Twentieth-Anniversary-of-Olmstead-v-LC.pdf.

United States Courts. (2022). Access to Education – Rule of Law Plyler v. Doe. https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/olmstead_about.htm#:~:text=The%20Decision,the%20Americans%20with%20Disabilities%20Act.

United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division. (2022). Olmstead.

Legislative Acts

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

             ADA is a United States labor law and civil rights legislation, signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26th, 1990.

ADA does not allow discrimination against people living with disabilities in entire areas of public life, including learning institutions, public services and so on (Blanck, 2019). It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation such as adjusting work schedules or modifying equipment so that persons with disabilities can work.

ADA has ensured that these students are exposed to equal access to quality education. Furthermore, it has ensured they are introduced to equal working opportunities (Keenan et al., 2019).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA is a federal law passed in 1975. The most recent version of IDEA was signed into law on December 3, 2004, by President George W. Bush (Kauffman et al., 2018).

IDEA ensures that children living with disability are introduced to a free and appropriate public education, including those children who are considered gifted and talented. The law also provides for parental involvement in educational decision-making, mandates transition services for students as they prepare to leave school, and sets standards for assessments (Kauffman et al., 2018).

This act has provided free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. In addition, it has provided parents with meaningful roles in their child’s education and has given students many opportunities to be educated outside of the regular classroom, such as inclusion classrooms, small group instruction, and distance learning.


Blanck, P. (2019). Why America is better off because of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Touro L. Rev.35, 605.

Kauffman, J. M., Hallahan, D. P., Pullen, P. C., & Badar, J. (2018). Special education: What it is and why we need it. Routledge.

Keenan, W. R., Madaus, J. W., Lombardi, A. R., & Dukes III, L. L. (2019). Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act on documentation for students with disabilities in transition to college: Implications for practitioners. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals42(1), 56-63.

error: Content is protected !!
Scroll to Top