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PARC v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1972: Summary & Significance

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  • 0:04 The Lawsuit
  • 1:04 Court Ruling
  • 1:35 Establishing Precedence
  • 2:04 Lasting Impact
  • 2:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

PARC v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the most significant court case rulings regarding the educational rights of children with disabilities. Learn why in this lesson.

The Lawsuit

The year is 1970. Johnny is a young boy who has a mental disability. His parents want him to have the opportunity to attend school and receive an education, but the school district refuses to allow Johnny to attend school. Johnny and his family live in Pennsylvania, and there is a law that allows public schools to deny education to children who haven't 'attained a mental age of 5 years' by the start of first grade. It was felt that educating these students would be too difficult and place undue financial burden on the schools.

If this doesn't sound fair to you, you aren't alone. Because of situations like this, the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) decided to intervene on behalf of mentally disabled children. In 1971, PARC sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, claiming that the state had prevented due process and denied the rights of mentally disabled children through their education laws. The case was brought before the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Court Ruling

A settlement was reached in early 1972, when a consent decree was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Masterson. The former Pennsylvania education laws were deemed unconstitutional and the state was ordered to provide a free public education to all children. A child with disabilities could no longer be denied access to the public school systems in Pennsylvania. This established the standard that each child must be offered an individualized education and laid the foundation for the right to an education for all children with disabilities.

Establishing Precedence

One important effect of this lawsuit was its legal precedence. PARC v. Pennsylvania was the first significant challenge to education laws in the United States that excluded students with disabilities. At the time, many other states had similar laws in place that prevented children with disabilities from receiving free public education. The ruling in PARC v. Pennsylvania opened the door for many similarly successful cases opposing these laws across the country.

Lasting Impact

Eventually, PARC v. Pennsylvania led to the enactment of important federal legislation, the most important being the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which was renamed in 1990 and is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA ensures that all children with disabilities are provided with a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment for the child.

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