Impact of first special education law still seen 42 years later

(WANE) – It’s been 42 years since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA was signed into law, but its impact can still be seen in special education today.

President Gerald Ford signed IDEA into law on December 2, 1975.

It was the first federal special education law enacted in the United States and served as a significant milestone for special education in public schools.

Today, people celebrate the historic moment with National Special Education Day. It’s a day to reflect on the progress that has been made, and to look at ways to better serve students with disabilities moving forward.

Special education has come a long way in the last 42 years, but Nikki Sprunger,Director of Special Education at Fort Wayne Community Schools, said the core concept has stayed the same – to provide equal opportunities for all students, especially those with disabilities.

“I’m going to refer to a comment JFK used throughout his career, ‘the IDEA legislation is the legislation that lifts all boats,'” Sprunger explained. “In other words, it’s the legislation that lifts all students.”

Over the years, the law has led to early intervention programs in public schools to reach student during early developmental stages. It also helps integrate students with disabilities into general education classrooms to improve their social interaction skills.

Some say the most important aspect is helping students learn important life and vocational skills to be successful adults after school.

Although the law and special education focuses on students, many educators say the students teach them just as much about life as the teachers teach the students.

“They teach us patience, tolerance, and just the love for life that these kids have and bring to us, and their passion for learning, and their passion for wanting to be with us,” Sprunger said.

Sprunger said she’s proud to help serve the nearly 5,000 students with disabilities at FWCS. She said she hopes legislators keep those students in mind when considering future changes to education laws..

“When we talk about reforms, I hope all people, including our legislators and senators, create pathways so all students can be successful, including students with disabilities,” Sprunger said.

In the end, she said it all goes back to making sure students have what they need to be successful in life, no matter their ability levels.