Education for All Handicapped Children Act

Education for All Handicapped Children Act

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (sometimes referred to using the acronyms EAHCA or EHA, or Public Law (PL) 94-142) was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975. This act required that all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education for children with physical and mental disabilities. Public schools were required to evaluate handicapped students and create an educational plan with parent input that would emulate as closely as possible the educational experience of non-disabled students.

The act also required that school districts provide administrative procedures so that parents of disabled children could dispute decisions made about their children’s education. Once the administrative efforts were exhausted, parents were then authorized to seek judicial review of the administration’s decision. Prior to the enactment of EHA, parents could take their disputes straight to the judiciary under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The mandatory system of dispute resolution created by EHA was an effort to alleviate the financial burden created by litigation pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act.

EHA was revised and renamed as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990.

Parent and Student Rights Under the EHA

Students have the right to an appropriate education based on the particular needs of the student, the parents, and the school district. In order to determine what an appropriate education is, the school is required to perform an evaluation of the student. Parents have the right to be notified of any changes in their children’s' education, and parents have the ability to dispute the school's decisions. The EHA creates an administrative framework that parents can use to appeal their disputes, and once this administrative remedy has been exhausted, parents have the right to seek judicial intervention. If parents win in a lawsuit against the school, they have the right to collect court costs and attorney's fees from the school district.

Functional Relationship Between EHA, The Rehabilitation Act, and the Equal Protection Clause

The Supreme Court decided that EHA would be the exclusive remedy for handicapped students asserting their right to equal access to public education in "Smith v. Robinson", 468 U.S. 992 (1984). The petitioner, Tommy Smith, was an eight year old student who suffered from cerebral palsy. The school district in Cumberland, Rhode Island originally agreed to subsidize Tommy’s education by placing him in a program for special needs children at the Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital. The school district later decided to remove Tommy from that program and send him to the Rhode Island Division of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, which was severely understaffed and under funded. This transfer would have constructively terminated Tommy’s public education. Tommy’s parents appealed the school district’s decision through the administrative process created by EAHCA. Once the administrative process was exhausted, the Smiths sought judicial review pursuant to the EAHCA, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The United States Supreme Court held that the administrative process created by EHA was the exclusive remedy for handicapped students asserting their right to equal access to education. "Allowing a plaintiff to circumvent the EHA administrative remedies would be inconsistent with Congress’ carefully tailored scheme…We conclude, therefore, that where the EHA is available to a handicapped child asserting a right to a free appropriate public education, based either on the EHA or on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the EHA is the exclusive avenue through which the child and his parents or guardian can pursue their claim." The court based its decision on a contextual analysis of the applicable statutes. To permit a student to rely on § 504 or the § 1983 would be to effectively eliminate the EHA, because it would circumvent the EHA’s requirement that petitioners first exhaust their administrative options before seeking judicial intervention.

In the face of this Supreme Court decision, the United States Congress passed an amendment to the EHA which explicitly over-ruled the Supreme Court's decision in two ways: (1) The amended law allowed parents to collect attorney's fees upon winning a case against the school. (2) The amended law permitted parents to bring a lawsuit under either EHA, § 504, or § 1983 once the administrative remedies had been exhausted.


"Legislation: Understanding and Using Statutes" (ISBN 1-58778-950-7)

"Smith v. Robinson", 468 U.S. 992 (1984)

External links

* [ Article on EAHCA]
*Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

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