Free Appropriate Public Education: The Law and Children With Disabilities. H. Rutherford Turnbull and Ann Turnbull. Denver: Love, 2000.
H. Rutherford and Ann Turnbull open their sixth edition of Free Appropriate Public Education with a recounting of the writing of the original version. They recall that their dining room table was “awash with cut-and-pasted sections of what was then referred to as P.L. 94–142, the Education for All Handicapped Students Act” (p. vii) while their son J.T. was in his second year of education under the same law. The visual image they evoke serves beautifully to capture the essence and strength of a book that provides a vast amount of detailed information related to special education law, but brings meaning to the information through constant reminders of the spirit that underlies it. I imagine that the Turnbull's dining room table was indeed piled high with information and that all of it was accurate and incredibly well-organized. I feel even more sure about the fact that their decisions about what information to include and how to arrange it were always made in relation to the hopes and needs of their son, their family, and the thousands of children, families, and professionals affected by both the letter and the spirit of IDEA.
Turnbull and Turnbull begin their book with an introduction to the American legal system and a thorough, historical account of development and content of federal policies and legislation related to persons with disabilities. These chapters serve to orient readers to the more detailed account of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to follow as well as to introduce the authors' notion of the ways in which IDEA is part of a broader federal legislative intent to create an inclusive society that respects and protects the rights of children and adults with disabilities. Following the two introductory chapters, the book proceeds with a close examination of all elements of IDEA, organized around its six major principles (i.e., zero reject, nondiscriminatory evaluation, individualized appropriate education, least restrictive environment, procedural due process, and parent participation). These chapters are densely packed with information that can at times be challenging to digest, but their organization around the six principles provides the reader with a lens and a set of values through which to understand the complexities of the law. The discussion of IDEA in relation to the six principles is supported by clear descriptions of relevant case law and its implications for practice. In addition, Turnbull and Turnbull devote a good deal of attention to the similarities and differences between IDEA and related legislation pertaining to persons with disabilities, including Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The authors' attention to detail and organization is highlighted in their first-rate glossary of legal terms, as well as its table of cases, reprints of critical cases, and comprehensive indexes of cases and subject areas. Each of these elements of the book creates an indispensable resource for those who need accurate and up-to-date information on special education and related laws. Potential readership for the book includes general and special education administrators, special educators and adult service providers, graduate students in special education and adult services, educational lawyers and consultants, and parents of children and young adults with disabilities. The book presumes some prior knowledge of the field of disabilities and is not always an easy read, but it is one that is sure to invite constant returning to its pages.
As a reader with an eye towards including a much-condensed version of this book into my graduate-level foundations course on special education, I found myself especially keyed into all information associated with the 1997 amendments to IDEA. This information comprises much of the basis of additions and revisions that set the 6th edition apart from previous editions. There is a great deal to be learned here in relation to IDEA's re-authorization, and once again, the Turnbull's have clearly identified major themes that suggest new directions for disability-related laws and practices in schools and society. They argue that although P.L. 94–142 was primarily concerned with ensuring access to education for children with disabilities, IDEA/97 is focused on promoting a more integrated approach to services that avoids functional exclusion (i.e., when students are present in an educational setting but do not receive an appropriate education that would lead to educational benefit) and/or segregation for students with disabilities. The provisions of IDEA/97 are clearly described as requiring schools to ensure access not only to educational settings but to a results-focused and outcome-oriented education for students with disabilities.
Of related interest are two new principles described in association with IDEA: namely, the principles of dual accommodations and capacity-building. The principle of dual accommodations is the concept that IDEA and the ADA work in complementary ways to ensure that persons with disabilities will find success in school and adult life. The IDEA is an entitlement program that promotes the development of strategies and skills that serve to help individuals with disabilities accommodate to the “nondisabled world,” whereas Section 504 and ADA serve as antidiscrimination laws that create access through the establishment of reasonable accommodations on the part of the public. Turnbull and Turnbull maintain that together, entitlements and anti-discrimination laws have the power to “create an interlocking, two-part accommodation: The person accommodates to the world and the world accommodates to the person” (p. 52). The principle of capacity-building provides the means through which the notion of dual accommodations can occur because it implies that just as the capacities of individuals with disabilities need to be developed through school and social programs, the capacities of social institutions must be developed in order for them to provide high quality programs and services, ensure implementation of individual rights, and promote collaborative practices across professions and with families.
The sixth edition affirms Turnbull and Turnbull's gift for presenting special education law in a manner that conveys its specifics clearly and thoroughly, while emphasizing above all else its underlying values and potential. In an age when any discussion of the law may turn depressing or even cynical, it is refreshing to be reminded of the power and the potential for the law to transform the way we currently do things in our society. The Turnbulls contend that IDEA/97 and ADA have created a situation of “legal parallelism” in which IDEA's focus on access to the general education curriculum and a results-oriented education is reinforced and paralleled by ADA's focus on employability, ability, and inclusion in all aspects of life. They find it “beyond argument” that “IDEA and ADA together create a contract of lifetime support and access for individuals with disabilities and their families” (p. 316). In their view, the potential of IDEA and ADA is further expanded by the possibility that through enforcement of individual rights and increased participation, persons with and without disabilities can come to see each other in new ways that create new “norms” for society. And as norms change, “the ‘forms' of society change too” (p. 316).
Turnbull and Turnbull do not avoid discussing the shortcomings of IDEA and related legislation, nor do they underestimate the controversies surrounding implementation of entitlement programs and antidiscrimination laws. In each chapter they present such challenges and their implications. For example, they provide an in-depth discussion of the two issues that they view as most contentious in special education: (a) expulsion and cessation of services and (b) the balancing of educational benefit with the principle of least restrictive environment. They do not argue that our legal system has led to the creation of a perfect world for children and adults with disabilities and their families, but they send a powerful message that as a society we would do well to maximize on the current “confluence of opportunity: the opportunity to apply and benefit from new laws that have complementary purposes and provisions; to adopt and live by new creeds and slogans; and to establish, through laws and creeds, new norms and forms” (p. 317).