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Educational Aside – Beginning of Special Education & the Board of Ed

In April of 1945, Governor Hildreth signed into law a bill creating the Division of Special Education for Physically Handicapped Children under the Maine Education Department. While it only provided for children with physical disabilities and the “special” classes were separate from their “normal” peers, this bill was a step towards providing an education for every children regardless of disability.

Newspaper clipping from the Lewiston Evening Journal, April 5, 1945 – Headline: Signs Bill For Handicapped Children’s Education.
Lewiston Evening Journal, April 5, 1945
Text of 1947 Public Law Ch 149 Act to Create a Division of Special Education
1947 Public Law Chapter 149 Act to Create a Division of Special Education

In 1949, after a century or more of going back and forth between different organizational structures for statewide education, the legislature passed a bill creating a State Board of Education, the forerunner to the modern Maine Department of Education, which built more stability into the system and expanded the State’s role in overseeing schools.

Text of 1949 Public Law Chapter 403 Creating the State Board of Education
1949 Public Law Chapter 403 Creating the State Board of Education

In 1949, Pownal State School built its first school building, a temporary structure. But, financial and staff shortages in the era of World War II and the Korean Conflict stymied most expansion plans.

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Theme Alert!


Values Check

Who and what do we value in our society? How do we determine someone’s “worth”, and whether they are deserving of help when they need it? Are all people really equal – and do we treat everyone as equally human?

People with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions because they were seen as useless or even dangerous to society. Their value in a place like Pineland rested on their potential for being trained to do menial labor – a Pineland resident could potentially get a furlough or even release from the institution if they could show that they could work.

In general, people with developmental disabilities throughout our history have been dismissed, patronized, and dehumanized. Doctors assumed that people with developmental disabilities didn’t feel pain, caretakers believed that they did not need friendships or hobbies or someone to communicate with, and society saw them as dangerous and unfit.

There were also people and moments in history that shifted our assumptions about the value of people with developmental disabilities – President Kennedy’s experience of loving his sister with disabilities led to huge policy shifts that impacted people with developmental disabilities across our country, and the brave self-advocates who organized a civil rights movement led directly to another president signing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The question must be posed, what is the value of all potential members of the community, with or without disability, to the very health and fiber of the community?