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Thursday, August 11, 2016

It Started in Massachusetts: Advocacy for Children with Disabilities

From Massachusetts Advocates for Children

By Jerry Mogul
Executive Director

August 1, 2016

Massachusetts: the Epicenter of Education Reform in the 1970s.

Massachusetts has been in the spotlight, with stories of Hillary Clinton organizing in New Bedford in 1973 on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) to identify children with disabilities excluded from school. But it is important to put this in historical context.

Massachusetts was not merely the backdrop to Secretary Clinton’s formative experience as a young attorney advocating for social change; it was the epicenter of education reform to guarantee access to school for children previously denied.

In 1969, Hubie Jones founded the Task Force on Children out of School (what is now Massachusetts Advocates for Children) to investigate the exclusion of 10,000 Boston children due to disabilities or language.

A year later, the Task Force produced its investigative report, The Way We Go to School: Children Excluded in Boston, which led in rapid succession to the first-in-the-nation state laws for bi-lingual education (1971) and for special education (1972, Massachusetts Chapter 766).

Marian Wright Edelman, who was at Harvard’s Center for Law and Education during MAC’s launch, founded CDF and wrote her first report on the national state of children out of school (to which Hillary Clinton contributed her research).

CDF then advocated in Congress to pass the first federal special education law in 1975, protecting children with disabilities across the nation.

It is important to note that when Hillary Clinton was going door-to-door in 1973, the children she met in New Bedford could still not attend school because the new state law – Chapter 766 – was not to go into effect until 1974.

It is vitally important to recognize the enormous contributions to the creation of the special education law not just by Hubie Jones and the Task Force members, but also by the legislative champions House Speaker David Bartley and the late state representative Michael Daly; the bill's authors, attorneys Larry Kotin and Bob Crabtree; Larry Brown, first executive director of the Task Force which shortly became MAC; parent organizer Martha Ziegler, whose efforts led to the founding of the Federation for Children with Special Needs; and countless parents, advocates and public officials who testified at the State House and organized throughout the state to secure the bill’s passage and assure its implementation.

Social change of the magnitude of opening the schoolhouse door to those formerly excluded requires an enormous mobilization of stakeholders both to create the change and then to stay vigilant over the years to monitor successful implementation. As Hubie Jones wrote in the forward to the Task Force report, “the chief intention of the Task Force is to move beyond the comfort of indictment to the achievement of corrective action.”

Our work is still not done, which is why the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, the Federation for Children with Special Needs and the Center for Law and Education remain to this day vital organizations advocating for and supporting children with disabilities and their families.

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