Education for All Handicapped Children Act

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Education for All Handicapped Children Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long title Education for All Handicapped Children Act
Acronyms (colloquial) EAHCA/EHA
Enacted by the 94th United States Congress
Effective 3500
Public law Pub. L. 94-142
Titles amended 20
Legislative history
  • Passed the Senate on June 18, 1975 (83-10)
  • Passed the House on July 29, 1975 
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on November 14, 1975; agreed to by the House on November 18, 1975 (404-7) and by the Senate on November 19, 1975 (87-7)
  • Signed into law by President Gerald Ford on November 30, 1975
Major amendments
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
United States Supreme Court cases
Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992 (1984)


Federal efforts to aid children and adults with disabilities began with two programs, Gallaudet University, (the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind, 1857, and the American Printing House for the Blind, 1879. “The first 100 years, From Gallaudet webpage In 1856, Amos Kendall, a postmaster general during two presidential administrations, donated two acres of his estate in northeast Washington, D.C. to establish a school and housing for 12 deaf and six blind students. The following year, Kendall persuaded Congress to incorporate the new school, which was called the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind. Edward Miner Gallaudet, the son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, founder of the first school for deaf students in the United States, became the new school's superintendent.” Congress authorized the institution to confer college degrees in 1864, and President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law.” (1) [1]

“American Printing House for the Blind (APH) is the world's largest nonprofit organization creating educational, workplace, and independent living products and services for people who are blind and visually impaired. From APH webpage. Founded in 1858 in Louisville, Kentucky, APH is the oldest organization of its kind in the United States. From 1858 until the Civil War began, APH organized its operation and raised funds to create embossed books. After the war, APH resumed operations and produced its first tactile books. By the early 1870s, APH was operating on a national scale. APH received a federal mandate in 1879 when the Congress of the United States passed the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind. This act designates APH as the official supplier of educational materials to all students in the U.S. who meet the definition of blindness and are working at less than college level.” (2) [2]


 One hundred years later, September 6, 1958, Congress passed Public Law 85-126.  From Gov. Printing Office doc.

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled- That the Commissioner of Education is authorized to make grants to public or other nonprofit institutions of higher learning to assist them in providing training of professional personnel to conduct training of teachers in fields related to education of mentally retarded children. Such grants may be used by such institutions to assist in covering the cost of courses of training or study for such personnel and for establishing and maintaining fellowships, with such stipends as may be determined by the Commissioner of Education.” (3) [3]

The 88th Congress, passed Public Law 88-164, an amendment and expansion of PL 85-926, amended it as follows: “The first sentence of such section is amended by striking out "mentally retarded children" and inserting in lieu thereof "mentally retarded, hard of hearing, deaf, speech impaired, visually handicapped, seriously emotionally disturbed, crippled, or other health impaired children who by reason thereof require special education (hereinafter in this Act referred to as 'handicapped children')". Section 2 of such Act is amended by striking out "mentally retarded children" and inserting in lieu thereof "handicapped children” This Act provided grants to individuals at approved institutions of higher education training to be classroom teachers, while the earlier Act provided grants to help the teachers of teacher, “Leadership Personnel.” [4]

The primary purpose of P.L. 88-164 was not these special education provisions, they were a Congressional addition, the Act was President John F. Kennedy’s initiative to create Mental Retardation and Mental Health Facilities including University Affiliated Facilities for Mental Retardation. The Bill, signed into law on October 31, 1963, preceded by three weeks the President’s Assassination, November 22, 1963. 1965-1975. Consolidation of Federal Leadership and Categorical Funding. From “Futures of Children” Edwin W. Martin, Reed Martin and Donna L. Terman “Consolidation of Federal Leadership and Categorical Funding. In the 1960s, advocates for children with disabilities wanted (1) a single entity that would coordinate federal educational efforts for children with disabilities; (2) increased categorical funding, that is, funding for the exclusive purpose of educating students with disabilities; and (3) an enforceable entitlement, which was eventually obtained through the courts. From 1967 through 1975, when Public Law 94–142 was passed, the BEH stimulated a number of federal programs aimed at specific priority populations, for example, early childhood education, education of children who were deaf/blind or multiply handicapped, and model programs for children with specific learning disabilities.” (5) [5]

The Federal legislation creating a national public policy for education of children in disabilities is captured in a history/memoir by the Director of the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped and the first Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, (Department of Education), Edwin W. Martin, Ph.D. “Breakthrough: Federal Special Education Legislation 1965-1981” (6) [6]

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (sometimes referred to using the acronyms EAHCA or EHA, or Public Law (PL) 94-142) was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975. This act required all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education and one free meal a day for children with physical and mental disabilities. Public schools were required to evaluate handicapped children and create an educational plan with parent input that would emulate as closely as possible the educational experience of non-disabled students.

The act also required that school districts provide administrative procedures so that parents of disabled children could dispute decisions made about their children’s education. Once the administrative efforts were exhausted, parents were then authorized to seek judicial review of the administration’s decision. Prior to the enactment of EHA, parents could take their disputes straight to the judiciary under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The mandatory system of dispute resolution created by EHA was an effort to alleviate the financial burden created by litigation pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act.

PL 94-142 also contains a provision that disabled students should be placed in the least restrictive environment-one that allows the maximum possible opportunity to interact with non-impaired students. Separate schooling may only occur when the nature or severity of the disability is such that instructional goals cannot be achieved in the regular classroom. Finally, the law contains a due process clause that guarantees an impartial hearing to resolve conflicts between the parents of disabled children to the school system.

The law was passed to meet four huge goals:

  1. To ensure that special education services are available to children who need them
  2. To guarantee that decisions about services to disabled students are fair and appropriate
  3. To establish specific management and auditing requirements for special education
  4. To provide federal funds to help the states educate disabled students

EHA was revised and renamed as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990 for improvement of special education and inclusive education.

Functional relationship between EHA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the equal protection clause[edit]

The Supreme Court decided that EHA would be the exclusive remedy for disabled students asserting their right to equal access to public education in Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992 (1984). The petitioner, Tommy Smith, was an eight-year-old student who had cerebral palsy. The school district in Cumberland, Rhode Island originally agreed to subsidize Tommy’s education by placing him in a program for special needs children at the Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital. The school district later decided to remove Tommy from that program and send him to the Rhode Island Division of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, which was severely understaffed and under funded. This transfer would have constructively terminated Tommy’s public education. Tommy’s parents appealed the school district’s decision through the administrative process created by EAHCA. Once the administrative process was exhausted, the Smiths sought judicial review pursuant to the EAHCA, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The United States Supreme Court held that the administrative process created by EHA was the exclusive remedy for disabled students asserting their right to equal access to education. "Allowing a plaintiff to circumvent the EHA administrative remedies would be inconsistent with Congress’ carefully tailored scheme…We conclude, therefore, that where the EHA is available to a disabled child asserting a right to a free appropriate public education, based either on the EHA or on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the EHA is the exclusive avenue through which the child and his parents or guardian can pursue their claim." The court based its decision on a contextual analysis of the applicable statutes. To permit a student to rely on § 504 or the § 1983 would be to effectively eliminate the EHA, because it would circumvent the EHA’s requirement that petitioners first exhaust their administrative options before seeking judicial intervention.

In the face of this Supreme Court decision, the United States Congress passed an amendment to the EHA which explicitly overruled the Supreme Court's decision in two ways: (1) The amended law allowed parents to collect attorney's fees upon winning a case against the school. (2) The amended law permitted parents to bring a lawsuit under either EHA, § 504, or § 1983 once the administrative remedies had been exhausted.

Attempt to weaken EHA[edit]

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration attempted to weaken EHA, but Patrisha Wright and Evan Kemp, Jr. (of the Disability Rights Center) led a grassroots and lobbying campaign against this that generated more than 40,000 cards and letters.[7] In 1984, the administration dropped its attempts to weaken EHA; however, they did end the Social Security benefits of hundreds of thousands of disabled recipients.[7]


Legislation: Understanding and Using Statutes (ISBN 1-58778-950-7)

Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992 (1984)

Gregory, R., J. (2007). Psychological Testing: History, Principles, and Applications. Psychological Testing and the Law. 5th ed.

External links[edit]