From the Executive Director

Perspectives from Our Founders

On May 2, the Federation is celebrating its 40th anniversary as an advocacy organization that was developed by parents, for parents and is still run by parents. We were formed just as the full implementation of Chapter 766 was beginning in September 1974. Attorney Bob Crabtree of Kotin, Crabtree and Strong recently wrote a blog* entitled “Turning 40 – Are the Purposes of Chapter 766 Being Achieved?” He along with his law partner, Larry Kotin, long time Education Committee staff member Connie Rizoli and others were among the people who shepherded this revolutionary law into being. Crabtree writes that Chapter 766 included a “Purpose Section” to describe the findings and purposes behind the Act. Its key sponsors wanted to clarify the goals of the new law and the reasons for some of the changes it would bring about.

Chapter 766 established that “the policy of the commonwealth (of Massachusetts) is to provide an adequate, publicly supported education to every child”. . . regardless of the severity of their disability.

In this 40th year, some of the pioneers and founders of that era have offered some insightful comments. Here is a glimpse of their perspectives: Harvey Liebergott was Special Assistant to the Director of the US Bureau of Education (today known as the US Dept. of Education). One of his assignments was to report on the implementation of the new Massachusetts law: “Chapter 766 grew out of model legislation developed by the Council for Exceptional Children, under a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. Because the Massachusetts law was such a success, we had a much easier time winning support for the federal law”.

Harvey continues, “I am convinced, that Chapter 766 would not have been such a success if it had not been for the group of “founding leaders: Michael Daly and David Bartley in the legislature, Greg Anrig and Bob Audette in the Massachusetts Department of Education, and Martha Ziegler, (Founder of the Federation) who is far and away the best parent advocate the country has produced. It was extraordinary that these people were in the positions where they were most needed.”

David Bartley, Former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives: “Much has been accomplished. I feel much the same as the late Mike Daly, (former Chair of the House Education Committee and Co-Author of the Chapter 766 Legislation) did when he described our collaboration (he in his role as House Chairman of the Education Committee and I as the Speaker) that led to the enactment of Chapter 766 as one of our proudest achievements. Mike and I were both teachers before we entered politics. We were each intimately aware that our public education system – neglected children with disabilities – and it was in the special education reform act (Chapter 766) that we each felt best realized the goals we shared to use the power of our offices to improve that system.”

Martha Ziegler, Founder of the Federation, views it through the eyes of her experience as the parent of Mary Ann. “During the past few months I have thought a lot about our revolutionary Chapter 766. My autistic daughter, Mary Ann, recently celebrated her 50th birthday. As I have thought about this situation, I realize how much our world has changed in the last 40 years. Before 766 (and other changes in state and federal law) most of the people serving Mary Ann in this challenge would have kept social distance from her. Further, they would have had no idea how to communicate with her or me. It would not have occurred to them that Mary Ann should participate in the crucial decisions about her life.”

Barbara C. Cutler, Ed.D, founder & director of the Autism National Committee: “There is no doubt that Chapter 766 was a giant achievement. Have we achieved all we hoped for? Not quite. But, before Chapter 766 the “choices” were institutionalization, stay at home, or if you were lucky and well behaved, a class in a church basement. 766 is a great success and we must be vigilant in our work to keep it moving forward”.

David Bartley: There is much still to be done: While it is apparent to me that the Chapter 766 purposes have been achieved and sustained for many students over the 40 years of its implementation, the inability of parents without means to access the due process system has left a great many of their children behind when their districts short-cut or deny services that they need.

Martha Ziegler: “We (someday will) have fuller understanding of the revolutionary progress the law has brought, first for thousands and thousands of children and families here in Massachusetts but ultimately for millions of children and families across our nation. Speaker Bartley and House Committee Chairman Michael Daly, plus Bob Crabtree, Larry Kotin, Connie Rizoli, and many more hard workers, including parents, achieved a historic victory that must be recognized.

Join us to celebrate the Legacy of 40 years and keep the promise of equal educational opportunity for all!

(*Quotes taken from Special Education Today: A Special Education Law Blog from the Attorneys at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP.