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Education: Integration into Public Schools

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      In 1939, state law mandated compulsory education for blind children over age 7 and under age 19. This law required attendance at the School for the Blind in Vinton. Exemptions to this requirement were given if it could be proven that the child had other "bodily or mental conditions" which would make attendance "futile," the child was diseased or possessed behaviors that would prove to be a "menace to the health or morals of other pupils," or the child received sufficient education through another such institution or a private tutor in public or private school. In that same year, state law moved governance of the school to the Board of Education.

      Image of blind itinerant teacher working with blind child. The child is using a Braille and Speak. Also pictured is a cassette talking book player.In the 1970s, parents of disabled children and disabled activists across the nation began a movement opposing the segregation of disabled children, including blind children, into specialized state schools. They felt such a system denied them choice in educational venue. Some also felt the education that the children received at these segregated schools was not on par with that offered in public schools. In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Federal Public Law 94-142) directed states to educate disabled children, including blind children, in the "least restrictive environment." For most disabled children, this meant being educated in the public school in their community. The passage of this law meant children could learn Braille and other alternative methods in their local school while living with parents and interacting with their sighted peers. The law did not require chilren to be educated at their local school. Instead, it gave parents and students a choice.

      In Iowa, some blind students had begun to move to the public school prior to the passage of the federal law in 1975. However, after its passage more and more students attended their local school. As an increasing number of blind and visually impaired students began attending school elsewhere, educational funds were directed to the local schools to cover the costs of specialized instruction and interant teachers were deployed statewide to provide instruction in alternative skills, such as Braille, assistive technology, and Orientation and Mobility. Now, the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School serves as the administrative center for the statewide Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI) program. A few students continue to attend classes at Vinton as day students. The school no longer has a residential component.

      Newspaper Articles on Integration into Public Schools:
      Many Only Need Special Equipment  (1963)
      Blind Pupils will Attend City Schools (Date unknown)

      More resources on school integration are available in the Iowa Blind History archives.

      Blind Iowans Talk about Their Experiences as Public School Students:

      Bettina Dolinsek on attending public school
      Jim Snowbarger on transferring to public school

      To hear the full narrations, read transcripts, or find additional oral histories in which blind Iowans talk about their educational experiences, visit the Oral History page.

      Image #1: Photo of itinerant teacher working with a blind child in her school. This teacher is also blind. Photo from the 1994 Iowa Department for the Blind Annual Report.