Only a few decades ago, children with intellectual disabilities did not have the right to a public education. In fact, Pennsylvania state law allowed public schools to deny services to children “who have not attained a mental age of five years” by the start of first grade.
In 1971, we brought the seminal lawsuit Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the first right-to-education suit in the country, to overturn that Pennsylvania law and secure a quality education for all children.
The case quickly settled before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pa., resulting in a consent decree in which the state agreed to provide a free public education for children with mental retardation.
The Right to Education
The Court’s decree laid the foundation for the establishment of the right to an education for all children with disabilities. That case also established the standard that each child must be offered an individualized education and that children should be placed in the least restrictive environment possible.
Though PARC ended quickly in a consent decree, a subsequent case called Mills v. Board of Education soon reached the Supreme Court under the same principles on which PARC was brought, and Mills finally established the fundamental Constitutional right to education of all children with disabilities.
In 1975, the consent decree in PARC was codified on a national level as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.