For the well-being of their children with disabilities or special needs, parents are often faced with the difficult decision of whether to attempt to integrate the child into a public school system or send him or her to a special school. Before the Education for All Handicapped Children Act or Public Law (PL) 94/142 was enacted in 1975, public schools educated only 1 out of 5 children with disabilities.
This act required all public schools accepting federal funds, to provide equal access to education for children with physical and mental disabilities. This education was to free, in the least restrictive environment and appropriate to their individual needs. 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. The ultimate goal was to help students live more independent lives in their communities.
Mainstreaming or inclusion in the context of education is a term that refers to the practice of educating students with special needs in regular classes during specific time periods, with supplementary aids and services if needed, based on their skills. This means regular education classes are combined with special education classes. Schools that practice mainstreaming believe that special needs students who cannot function in a regular classroom to a certain extent “belong” to the special education environment.