The Mills case was handed down three months after the PARC decision (Rains, 1998). Mills, like PARC was considered by the U. S. District Court of the District of Columbia as a class action suite (Zelin, 1993).
According to Rains (1998), the Mills decision, although similar to PARC in many aspects, went beyond PARC in a number of important ways, including: (a) Mills plaintiffs were not only children with mental retardation, but included children with other types of disabilities; (b) there was no settlement in this decision, therefore the court had to decide the case on its merits; and (c) the court’s decision also addressed funding for educating students with disabilities (p. 10) In Mills v.
Board of Education (1972), the parents and guardians of seven District of Columbia children brought a class action suit against the D. C. Board of Education, the Department of Human Resources, and the mayor for failure to provide all children with a publicly supported education. The plaintiff children ranged in age from 7 to 16 and were alleged by the public schools to present the following types of problems leading to the denial of their opportunity for an education: slight brain damage, hyperactive behavior, epilepsy and mental retardation, and mental retardation with an orthopedic handicap.
Three children resided in public residential institutions with no education program. The others lived with their families and, when denied entrance to programs, were placed on a waiting list for tuition grants to obtain a private education program. However, in none of these cases were tuition grants provided (Mills v. Board of Education, 1972). The defendants claimed that it would be impossible for them to afford the relief sought unless the Congress appropriated more funds or funds were diverted from other educational services for which they had been appropriated.
The court responded: The District of Columbia’s interest in educating the excluded children clearly must outweigh its interest in preserving its financial resources. If sufficient funds are not available for finance of all the services and programs that are needed and desirable in the system, then the available funds must be expended equitably in such a manner that no child is entirely excluded from a publicly supported education consistent with his needs and ability to benefit therefrom.
The inadequacies of the District of Columbia public school system, whether occasioned by insufficient funding or administrative inefficiency, certainly cannot be permitted to bear more heavily on the ‘exceptional’ or handicapped child than on the normal child (Mills v. Board of Education, 1972). Because the District of Columbia was not considered a state or a political subdivision of a state, but rather an arm of the Federal government, the Mills’ Court used the Fifth Amendment of the U.
S. Constitution in making its decision (Zelin, 1993). The Fifth Amendment specifically prohibits the Federal government, rather than state or local governments, from denying any citizen of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law” (Zelin, 1993, p. 11). Unlike PARC, Mills was decided by a judgement against the District of Columbia’s school board (Zettel & Ballard, 1979).
The Federal District Court ordered that the District of Columbia must provide all children, regardless of the severity of their disabilities, with a public education. And before any child could be excluded from a regular school program, an individually designed alternative education program had to be provided (Zettel & Ballard, 1979). According to Zelin (1993) the Mills decision directed the District of Columbia to follow very specific procedures for dealing with students with disabilities.
Included in those procedures were requirements for the school district to (a) identify and evaluate each child with a disability, (b) reevaluate the child’s status on a periodic basis, (c) consider placement in a regular education class with appropriate ancillary services as preferable to placement in special schools, (d) provide parent notification of any proposed placement, (e) provide parent notification of their right to an independent evaluation, and (f) conduct an administrative hearing to address parent/school disagreements with services, placements, and suspensions (Zelin, 1993).
The momentum for change was unstoppable after the PARC and Mills decisions. The court cases established three principles that have guided special education law since that time. One is the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process prevents schools from excluding students solely on the basis of their disabilities. Another is that the parents of students with disabilities must have a range of opportunities, such as impartial hearings and access to the courts, in order to challenge a school’s decisions regarding their children’s educational programs.
Finally, exorbitant costs are no excuse for failure to grant students with disabilities access to the public education system (Palmaffy, 2001). PARC and Mills and the principles they elucidated fueled a surge in litigation during the next two years that resulted in more than thirty federal court decisions upholding the principles of PARC and Mills (U. S. Congress, 1973).
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