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Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia: Summary & Significance Video

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  • 0:05 All Students Are Important
  • 0:45 The Problem
  • 2:12 The Solution
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shannon Orr
Did you know that there was a time when certain students could not attend school simply because of the way they were born? This lesson will discuss how all students were given a right to free, public education.

All Students Are Important

Imagine being a child and being told that you could not go to school due to a condition that was no fault of your own. In today's society, this statement seems far-fetched; however, there was a time when students were discriminated against and denied an education due to physical, mental, and/or emotional disabilities. As a teacher, it is your job and responsibility to ensure that all students are given the academic tools needed for success, as well as an equal opportunity to succeed. It is also important to be aware of the laws that have been put into place in order to ensure that every child has access to a free public education.

The Problem

In 1971, seven children who lived in the District of Columbia were being denied the right to an education. These children had different mental and behavioral disabilities that caused them to be expelled or denied schooling. A disability is a condition someone has from birth or that has developed over time and may affect that person physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.

There were no alternatives made available to these students, such as a school for students with special needs. Therefore, they were going to miss out on the opportunity of an education. Their parents decided to fight back against the district. In response, the school district stated that while it understood that the children had the legal right to an education, it did not have the monetary funds and/or resources in order to serve these particular students and their needs.

Prior to this case, parents with children who had special needs had begun to fight back legally in order to ensure that their children were given the education they deserved. In the case of Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the courts found that students whose mental capacity was lower than the required entrance age of five could not be refused free, public education. If those seven students who lived in the District of Columbia were allowed to attend school, it would open the door for any student, regardless of the student's identified disability, to be able to attend school and receive the services they needed without being discriminated against.

The Solution

In 1972, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of those seven students in Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court found that denying these students a right to education was equivalent to discriminating against students due to their race. The Supreme Court had already found that segregation, or treating people of another race differently because of the color of their skin, was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954.

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