PARC v the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1971)

The PARC case was also a class action suit. This suit was filed on the behalf of persons with a varitey of disabilities who were being excluded from state supported public schools in Pennsylvania. The primary litigant, Nancy Beth Brown, had severe mental retardation. The state law set specific entry requirements for students attending public school. Nancy Beth and other students similarly situated were barred from entry into school because they could not meet the requirements for entry skills set by the Pennsylvania legislature.

The planitiffs in this case (the parents of the children who were being excluded and the Public Interest Center of Law for Philadelphia) claimed that by refusing to serve their children the state of Pennsylvania was violating their 14th amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The substance of the claim was based on the Brown v the Board of Education ruling that all children are entitled to "equal educational opportunity." Since Pennsylvania chose to provide access to an education for children without disabilities, denial of educational opportunity to children with disabilities constituted a violation of the "equal protection." clause.

The court found in favor of the plaintiffs and the judge ordered an injunction and consent agreement (did not find either party in the wrong). The court held that children with disabilities were being denied access to an education and that this denial did constitute a violation of the 14th amendment. Furthermore, the PARC case established several important ideas that were to form the basis of the EHA several years later. These ideas include:

  1. the "zero reject" principle - all children are capable of learning and should not be excluded from educational programs.
  2. "least restrictive environment" - students with disabilities should, when appropriate, be educated alongside their peers.
  3. due process procedures must be followed in all placements
  4. appropriate education the education provided must be appropriate to the learning capacities of the student

As a student of special education, you will quickly recognize that when the EHA was passed, the language of this court decision was used to develop the preamble to the law and the specific due process requirements included in the law.