Laws and Ordinances

Existing Laws and Pending Resolutions

Page will be updated on the current laws and pending resolutions for special education in the Philippines.

Compilation of the History of Special Education

United States of America

Special Education, put simply, is a specialized branch of education. Its origins may be traced back to the time when Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775 – 1838), a physician by profession, was able to “tame” the “wild boy of Aveyron,” and Anne Sullivan Macy (1866 – 1936), who was the teacher behind Helen Keller’s “miracles” of learning. Today’s educators of special education are tasked with teaching those students who have physical, cognitive, language, learning, sensory, and/or emotional abilities that deviate from those of the general population. Special educators provide instruction specifically tailored to meet individualized needs, making education available to students who otherwise would have limited access to education. In the United States, special education provides learning opportunities to more than 6.5 million children and 200,000 infants, toddlers, and families each year.

Although federally mandated special education is relatively new in the United States, students with disabilities have been present in every era and in every society. Historical records have consistently documented the most severe disabilities – those that transcend task and setting. Itard’s description of the wild boy of Aveyron documents a variety of behaviors consistent with both mental retardation and behavioral disorders. Nineteenth-century reports of deviant behavior describe conditions that could easily be interpreted as severe mental retardation, autism, or schizophrenia. Milder forms of disability became apparent only after the advent of universal public education. When literacy became a goal for all children, teachers began observing disabilities specific to task and setting – that is, less severe disabilities. After decades of research and legislation, special education now provides services to students with varying degrees and forms of disabilities, including mental retardation, emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, speech-language (communication) disabilities, impaired hearing and deafness, low vision and blindness, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, and severe and multiple disabilities.

At its inception in the early nineteenth century, leaders of social change set out to cure many ills of society. Physicians and clergy, including Itard, Edouard O. Seguin (1812 – 1880), Samuel Gridley Howe (1801 – 1876), and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787 – 1851), wanted to ameliorate the neglectful, often abusive treatment of individuals with disabilities. A rich literature describes the treatment provided to individuals with disabilities in the 1800s: They were often confined in jails and almshouses without decent food, clothing, personal hygiene, and exercise. During much of the nineteenth century, and early in the twentieth, professionals believed individuals with disabilities were best treated in residential facilities in rural environments. Advocates of these institutions argued that environmental conditions such as urban poverty and vices induced behavioral problems. Reformers such as Dorothea Dix (1802 – 1887) prevailed upon state governments to provide funds for bigger and more specialized institutions. These facilities focused more on a particular disability, such as mental retardation, then known as “feeble-mindedness” or “idiocy“; mental illness, then labeled “insanity” or “madness”; sensory impairment such as deafness or blindness; and behavioral disorders such as criminality and juvenile delinquency. Children who were judged to be delinquent or aggressive, but not insane, were sent to houses of refuge or reform schools, whereas children and adults judged to be “mad” were admitted to psychiatric hospitals. Dix and her followers believed that institutionalization of individuals with disabilities would end their abuse (confinement without treatment in jails and poorhouses) and provide effective treatment. Moral treatment was the dominant approach of the early nineteenth century in psychiatric hospitals, the aim being cure. Moral treatment employed methods analogous to today’s occupational therapy, systematic instruction, and positive reinforcement. Evidence suggests this approach was humane and effective in some cases, but the treatment was generally abandoned by the late nineteenth century, due largely to the failure of moral therapists to train others in their techniques and the rise of the belief that mental illness was always a result of brain disease.

Given the above, the grassroots advocacy of several entities had a significant role in the beginning of what is to be known as the history of special education. One of the first organizations was the American Association on Mental Deficiency, which held its first convention in 1947. By the early 1950s, fueled by the Civil Rights Movement, a number of other parent organizations were formed, including the United Cerebral Palsy Association, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and John F. Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation. During the 1960’s, an increasing level of school access was established for children with disabilities at the state and local levels.

The legislations that focused on providing children with disabilities however, did not happen before 1965. This was the year that  Congress adds Title VI to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 creating a Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (this bureau today is called the Office of Special Education Programs or OSEP). In 1972, two significant supreme court decisions [PARC v. Pennsylvania (1972) and Mills v. D.C. Board of Education (1972)] apply the equal protection argument to students with disabilities. The courts take the position that children with disabilities have an equal right to access education as their non-disabled peers. Although there is no existing federal law that mandates this stance, some students begin going to school as a result of these court decisions. The following year of 1973, saw the enactment of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 into statute. This national law protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. But this national law was enacted with little fanfare. Most educators were not aware that this applied to public schools. Another legislation the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), was enacted for the year 1974 which allowed parents to have access to all personally identifiable information collected, maintained, or used by a school district regarding their child.

The groundswell of the grassroots advocacy of some organizations resulted to the more recent history of special education in America, which commenced with Congressional approval of the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act” (Public Law 94-142) on November 29, 1975. This law was intended to support states and localities in “protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving the results for infants, toddlers, children and youths with disabilities and their families.” After the adoption of enabling regulations, PL 94-142 went effective in October 1977, becoming the legislative foundation for federal funding of special education.

PL 94-142 proved to be the cornerstone of special education, requiring public schools to provide “free appropriate public education” to students with a wide range of disabilities, including “physical handicaps, mental retardation, speech, vision and language problems, emotional and behavioral problems, and other learning disorders.” It also mandated that school districts provide such schooling in the “least restrictive environment” possible.

In 1983, the law was extended to include parent training and information centers at the state level. In 1986, early intervention programs for infants and education services for preschoolers were added. In 1990, services and eligibility were again expanded and the law was renamed the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA). The IDEA has been reauthorized and expanded ever since. This amendment for instance, calls for many changes to the old law. One of the biggest was the addition of transition services for students with disabilities. School Districts were now required to look at outcomes and assisting students with disabilities in transitioning from high school to postsecondary life.

The IDEA was reauthorized in 1997 which calls for students with disabilities to be included in on state and district-wide assessments. Also, Regular Education Teachers are now required to be a member of the IEP team. In 2001, the No Child Left Behind legislation was enacted which calls for all students, including students with disabilities, to be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014. Once again, the IDEA was reauthorized to include several changes from the 1997 reauthorization. The biggest changes call for more accountability at the state and local levels, as more data on outcomes is required. Another notable change involves school districts providing adequate instruction and intervention for students to help keep them out of special education.

The IDEA, being the forefront of Special Education’s development and implementation is taking the next 25 years of the 21st century to provide an opportunity to ensure that educational improvements for all children include infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. Whereas Public Law 94-142 issued a national challenge to ensure access to education for all children with disabilities, the 1997 Amendments to IDEA articulated a new challenge to improve results for these children and their families.

To meet this challenge, IDEA must build on its previous support for equality of access and continue to expand and strengthen its support for quality programs and services. Improving educational results for children with disabilities requires a continued focus on the full implementation of IDEA to ensure that each student’s educational placement and services are determined on an individual basis, according to the unique needs of each child, and are provided in the least restrictive environment. The focus must be on teaching and learning that use individualized approaches to accessing the general education curriculum and that support learning and high achievement for all.

Yes, it is a given that after 25 years there is no easy or quick fix to the challenges of educating children with disabilities. However, it has been proven that IDEA has been a primary catalyst for the progress witnessed in the United States. Because of Federal leadership, the people of the United States better appreciate the fact that each citizen, including individuals with disabilities, has a right to participate and contribute meaningfully to society. With continued Federal-state-local partnerships, the nation will similarly demonstrate that improving educational results for children with disabilities and their families is critical to empowering all citizens to maximize their employment, self-sufficiency, and independence in every state and locality across the country.


Controversial Issues in Special Education

Special education has been the target of criticism throughout history. Some of the criticism has been justified, some unjustified. Some criticisms brought to light ineffective practices, such as the inefficacy and inhumanity of relegating all persons with disabilities to institutions. Other criticisms were distractions with disastrous repercussions, such as the singular focus on the importance of place while ignoring other inappropriate practices. The beginning of the twenty-first century found new criticisms being launched at special education. Some argue that the use of diagnostic labels is potentially stigmatizing to students, others that minority students are overrepresented in some disability categories, and still others that education of students with disabilities in special classes and schools, even pulling students out for instruction in resource classes, is akin to race-based segregation. Some of these criticisms may expose ineffective practices, others may only distract educators from the effort of finding and implementing effective instructional practices. Professionals must develop the ability to learn from history and differentiate between unimportant criticisms and those with merit.

One valid criticism repeatedly launched against special education involves the implementation of ineffective educational interventions. Although great concern about the where of instruction was expressed in the 1980s and 1990s, little attention was given to the what of instruction. Throughout the twentieth century the field of special education repeatedly adopted instructional strategies of questionable efficacy – interventions that have little to no empirical basis. Additionally, special educators have adopted, with “bandwagon” fervor, many practices that have been proven ineffective and have thereby repeated the mistakes of history. If special education is to progress, professionals will need to address and remedy the instructional practices used with students with disabilities.

Special education has also been validly criticized for the way in which students with disabilities are identified. In the early nineteenth century, physicians and educators had difficulty making reliable distinctions between different disability categories. In fact, the categories of mental retardation and behavioral disorders are inseparably intertwined. Many of the disability categories overlap to the extent that it is hard to differentiate one from the other. Additionally, some of the categories – learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, for example – are defined by the exclusion of other contributing disabilities. Thus, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, much work remains on the identification of students with disabilities.

Perhaps the largest, most pervasive issue in special education is its relationship to general education. The relationship of special to general education has been controversial since the beginning of universal public schooling. However, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the question of whether special education should retain a separate identity or be fused with general education such that it has no separate identity (e.g., budget, personnel) was made prominent by proponents of a radical restructuring of special education. Proponents of radical restructuring and fusion argue that such integration is necessary to provide appropriate education for all students regardless of their disabilities and without stigma or discrimination. In their view, special education suffers primarily from structural problems, and the integration of two separate systems will result in a flexible, supple, responsive single system that will meet the needs of all students without “separating out” any. All teachers, according to this line of thinking, should be prepared to teach all students, including those with special needs.

Opponents of radical restructuring argue that special education’s problems are primarily the lack of implementation of best practices, not structural. Moreover, they suggest, special education will not survive to serve the special needs of exceptional students if it loses its identity, including special budget allocations and personnel preparation. It is not feasible nor is it desirable, they contend, to prepare all teachers to teach all children; special training is required to teach students who are educationally exceptional. Arguments about the structure of education (special and general), who (if anyone) should receive special treatment, how they should be taught, and where special services should be provided are perpetual issues in special education. These issues will likely continue to be debated throughout the twenty-first century.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, another issue became the basis for conceptual or theoretical bases for special education practices. Postmodern and antiscientific philosophies have been put forward in both general and special education. These ideas have been challenged by others who have noted the importance of the scientific method in discriminating among ideas and assertions. Likely, postmodern ideas and attempts to apply them to or refute them will be perpetual.

More than two hundred years after Itard began his work on the education of the wild boy of Aveyron, special educators are being asked to make decisions concerning such issues as placement and delivery of services. The inclusion debate, although important, has the potential to distract the field of special education away from issues of greater import – issues such as the efficacy of intervention and the accurate identification of students with disabilities. If special educators are to avoid the mistakes of the past, they will need to make future decisions based upon reliable data, evaluating the efficacy of differing options. Since the inception of what is now known as IDEA, significant progress has been made in applying scientific research to the problems of special education. In the twenty-first century, special education need not remain a field of good intentions, but can fully employ the scientific child-study techniques begun in the late eighteenth century to provide free and appropriate educations to all children with disabilities.



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