Special Education

Retired Administrator Notes Shift in Federal Law’s Focus

By Joetta L. Sack — November 29, 2000 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As a former teacher and school administrator, Virginia Copeland has spent a career in special education. But as the stepparent of a child with speech and learning disabilities, she has gained a different view of teaching children with disabilities.

Ms. Copeland, who recently retired as a special education director for the Bailey district in suburban Houston, has seen dramatic transformations in the special education system since Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. And, she said, she has been delighted with the results of the law, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. “I am a firm believer in this law,” she said. “It has provided us with lots of opportunities.”

IDEA 25:
Progress and Problems
Part I:
IDEA Opens Doors, Fans Controversy
‘I Know That I Am Here for a Reason’
Lobbying for Change: A Parent’s View
Retired Administrator Notes Shift In Federal Law’s Focus
Table: A Rising Tide of Disabilities
Charts: The Changing Nature Of Students’ Disabilities
Part II:
Schools Grapple With Reality Of Ambitious Law
Teacher’s Career Spans Changes Spurred by 1975 Law
‘They Accept Me For Who I Am’
Chart: A Sharp Rise in Federal Special Education Funding

Ms. Copeland began her career as a special education teacher in 1968 at an institution for the mentally retarded in Austin, Texas. Many of the students there would have been included in regular classes and taught work skills today, she said, but at the time it was standard to relegate such students to special schools. That was the case even in Texas, which was already working to include children with disabilities in regular schools and classrooms by 1975.

After what is now the IDEA was passed, Ms. Copeland and her colleagues spent the next few years working to find such children, some of whom had never been to school before. They placed informational brochures in child-care facilities and other locations, conducted special education screenings at schools, and enlisted doctors’ offices to spread the word that children with disabilities were now entitled to educational services.

Different Perspective

Later, Ms. Copeland got a different view of the federal law’s workings. In 1978, her stepson, Chris, started school, where he began having problems in reading and communicating. After he was referred for special education, he was diagnosed as having a speech impairment and learning disabilities that entitled him to services under the IDEA. The diagnoses, Ms. Copeland said, were crucial. Now 27, Chris is a college graduate and works as a medical-sales representative.


Ms. Copeland said that the changes brought about under Congress’ 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA were particularly meaningful because they ordered schools to align the curriculum for students with disabilities with the general curriculum.

“The first 20 years of IDEA focused on finding children, identifying, and evaluating them, and creating an [individualized education plan],” Ms. Copeland said. “We saw a lot of focus on a separate curriculum,” which was often fragmented as students were shuffled between regular and special education classes, she said.

Now, she added, “we’re seeing a whole paradigm shift. Special education is no longer a place; it is a service. The supports are being brought to the student.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2000 edition of Education Week as Retired Administrator Notes Shift In Federal Law’s Focus


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Video Inside an Inclusive Classroom: How Two Teachers Work Together
This model for inclusive education benefits students of all abilities, and the teachers instructing them.
1 min read
Special Education Using Technology for Students in Special Education: What the Feds Want Schools to Know
Assistive technology can improve outcomes for students in special education, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
4 min read
Black students using laptop in the lab with white female teacher- including a female student with special needs.
Special Education Q&A Schools Should Boost Inclusion of Students With Disabilities, Special Olympics Leader Says
Schools have work to do to ensure students with intellectual and developmental disabilities feel a sense of belonging, Tim Shriver said.
6 min read
Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver greets a child at one of the organization’s events.
Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver greets a child at one of the organization’s events.
Courtesy of Special Olympics
Special Education Spotlight Spotlight on the Science of Reading for Students with Disabilities
This Spotlight will empower you with strategies to apply the science of reading to support students with learning differences and more.