FYI, the Institute on Community Integration Staff Newsletter

June 2013

ICI Preparing Book on Minnesota’s Landmark 1957 Special Education Law

In 1957, Minnesota became one of the first states in the nation to pass a law requiring that special education services be provided to children and youth with disabilities. The law, Special Instruction for Handicapped Children of School Age (MN Statutes 1957 131.081), sparked a movement that impacted landmark legislation for similar special education services in other states. That movement ultimately resulted in the passage of the federal Education of All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) in 1975, which required special education be provided in all public schools in the U.S.

Dr. Evelyn Neva Deno (1911-2005), former supervisor for special education in Minneapolis Public Schools, and later a Professor in Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, was instrumental in the creation of special education services in the state during the 1950s and 1960s. In her later years she compiled an amazing collection of personal stories from those who were involved in creating the 1957 Minnesota special education law. This collection is a historical treasure that has been overlooked for years, and now will be organized into a published anthology for the public by a new project at the Institute on Community Integration (ICI).

Before 1957, many Minnesota schools did not provide any education services to most children with disabilities. These children were often institutionalized or stayed home. The 1957 law was ground-breaking, requiring public schools statewide to establish special education programs for children with many types of disabilities who were “educable.”

Among the 400-plus pages of stories collected by Dr. Deno are those about the creation of services leading up to the 1957 Minnesota law. They include stories on:

  • Michael Dowling, the Dowling School, and Marshall High School services for “handicapped students” in Minneapolis.

  • The work of the 1950s Legislative Commission, by former Gov. Elmer Anderson (1909-2004), Rep. Wayne Bassett (1915-1988), and Dr. Maynard Reynolds (1922-2012).

  • The first state Department of Education Office of Special Education, by those involved.

  • The creation of services on learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, and vision, especially in the Minneapolis schools.

  • The creation of PACER Center and parent advocacy in general, by involved parents.

“Since Dr. Deno’s anthology is the only known documentation of these stories, and many of the storytellers have passed away, preparing this anthology for publication is an opportunity to ensure this piece of history will be preserved and made available to anyone who is interested,” says project consultant Norena Hale.

ICI is working with the Minnesota Historical Society to prepare, publish, and distribute the anthology, which is expected to be released in 2014. This project, which is directed by David R. Johnson, is funded by a $7,000 Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant through the Minnesota Historical Society. For further information, contact Norena Hale at