Special Education

Retired Administrator Notes Shift in Federal Law’s Focus

By Joetta L. Sack — November 29, 2000 2 min read

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.

BRIC ARCHIVE

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

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
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.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
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.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

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 'They Already Feel Like Bad Students.' A Special Educator Reflects on Virtual Teaching
In a year of remote teaching, a high school special ed teacher has seen some of his students struggle and some thrive.
4 min read
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, sits for a photo at Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos, Calif., on April 21, 2021.
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, says remote learning has provided new ways for some of his students to soar, and has made others want to quit.
Sarahbeth Maney for Education Week
Special Education What the Research Says Gifted Education Comes Up Short for Low-Income and Black Students
Wildly disparate gifted education programs can give a minor boost in reading, but the benefits mainly accrue to wealthy and white students.
8 min read
Silhouette of group of students with data overlay.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Special Education What the Research Says Most Students With Disabilities Still Attend Remotely. Teachers Say They're Falling Behind
A new survey finds that students with disabilities are struggling in virtual classes, even with added support from teachers.
3 min read
Image shows a young femal student working on a computer from phone, interfacing with an adult female.
Getty
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.
Sponsor
Special Education Whitepaper
A Comprehensive Guide to the IEP Process
Download this guide to learn strategies for bringing together all stakeholders to plan an IEP that addresses the whole child; using relia...
Content provided by n2y