Chapter 3: The Right to Education and PARC Consent Decree
04:36:52:08 - 04:40:32:26
Lisa: When you did decide to act, I know that you engaged, a young respected, civil rights poverty law attorney named Tom Gilhool. I wonder if you could tell me about your initial meetings with Tom and, so what course he suggested the PARC follow, in terms of closing Pennhurst.
Jim: My initial meeting with, uh, Tom and of course Dennis Haggerty found Tom and, uh, that's to Dennis's credit. Tom was, mean we, we clicked. Tom and I clicked immediately. Uh, he has a sibling too, as I did and, and so, uh, we just, uh, we hit it off, uh, right away personality wise and, uh, he, uh, he had passion, uh, he had energy. He had vision and, uh, we talked about all of that. He was ready to jump into this all the way. Uh, He wanted to get on board, take this up and, uh, he, uh, he was ready to, uh, pick up on that resolution, uh, which he did and he came back to our, I believe it was November of that year, 1969 at the board meeting in Harrisburg. That was another major turning point and, uh, Tom came back, uh, with five legal strategies. Uh, one strategy was right to treatment. I remember another strategy was, uh, redirecting the, uh, capital improvement campaign and of course the fifth strategy of the five. There were two others but the fifth strategy was right to education and, uh, remember him saying at the time, this is Tom's vision. He had this vision, saying that, uh, pursuing the right to education action. That strategy would take us out of the residential context because we were all so focused on Pennhurst. He said, this is going to take us far beyond, uh, the Pennhurst issue even though we would be focusing initially on Pennhurst and we would include that class of, uh, folks, uh, at Pennhurst, uh, in the litigation and he was absolutely right. The right to education focus of course broadened our effort and took us far beyond that residential context. And, uh, of course at that November board meeting, again it was not a unanimous vote. Uh, there were parents there who stood fast, who were really quite afraid and I remember, again sitting down with some of them, talking to them and I can certainly understand, uh, their, even to this day their feeling and their fear that, uh, that there would be retaliation and that we should just continue to negotiate with the state government and that was not the answer from my standpoint nor the standpoint of Tom or Dennis or Stu Brown or Pat Clapp or any of the others and of course we then moved ahead at that point and we moved, uh, to, uh, began to assemble the case, retain Tom and that was the launch of the right to education litigation.
04:40:40:01 - 04:43:37:18
Lisa: Tom Gilhool was engaged to represent PARC and you decided to pursue the right to education. In preparing the case, which I think took the better part of the year. You really did have access to some of the most really progressive thinkers in the disability community including Gunner Dybwad and I am wondering if you could tell me a little bit about what your memories are of that time, preparing the case and, uh, maybe what conversations stand out.
Jim: I remember Gunnar Dybwad so very well. He was a lightning rod, uh, for us. He was an extraordinary person and such a leader, uh, in the movement. , uh, he was then of course a professor up at, uh, The Florence Heller School at Brandeis University. And, uh we connected with him early on at the, uh, at The Arc, at the state association and, uh, we would meet in Harrisburg regularly, uh, before our board meetings and I was President then and we'd invite Gunner down, uh, to Harrisburg and he would come down and, uh, he was a dynamo, uh, he was, uh, an intellectual and he was so passionate and, uh, he passed along that passion to us. He felt so strongly about, uh, achieving, uh, the objectives that we had set forth for ourselves. Full rights for our folks and he would hammer away and pound the table, uh, talking about the timing. This was the time to do it. We could not miss the time. And he'd tell me directly, he'd sit in front of me directly and said, Jim you're the President of the association, you have got to do it. You have got to get this vote. And, uh, he'd stand up and walk around the room and, and we would have these long meetings that would go into the early morning hours of the day and I would have to remind everyone that we had a board meeting the next day. I've got to function guys, you know and handle this board meeting so let's, we've got to end this by dawn at least so, uh. But the point was, uh, that, and is that, uh, he gave us kind of a road map, uh, and, uh, gave us, uh, the kind of, uh, support that, that was so necessary, uh, to us all. To Tom, Tom didn't need it, uh, but for Dennis, uh, he probably didn't need it, uh, but certainly for me. Uh, I, I loved the guy.
04:43:37:18 - 04:49:41:22
Lisa: Ok. PARC vs. the Common Wealth in Pennsylvania was filed in '71 and it really was become one of the landmark cases of the disability movement. Um, did you have a sense of what the outcome would be and how quickly the outcome would present itself?
Jim: I did not, uh, I, uh, but talking to Tom I had kind of at least, uh, a perspective on what the outcome might be. He was quite confident, uh, but still nervous, uh, as, as the date for filing, uh, the case approached, uh, but, uh, I didn't think personally, uh, I understood the full implications of, uh, what might happen if we were successful. The, uh, the ripples, uh, to, uh, the, uh, interim orders of the court approving the consent decree were extraordinary. Immediately after the, uh, orders of the court, uh, were handed down, I remember it was October, I think, uh, 1972, interim orders. The, uh, The New York Times had been covering, uh, the case, uh, from the very beginning, picked it up right away and we had planted some of those stories but keep in mind you can't plant stories with The New York Times. They do their own, uh, investigation and, uh, so they had already assigned a reporter to work on the case and follow it and, uh, so I think it was October, uh, probably the first week of October, uh, when the interim order of the court, uh, approving the consent decree between the common wealth and PARC was handed down by the federal court in Philadelphia and, uh, the reaction was immediate. The ripples, uh, were, uh, immediate and, uh, The Times, uh, picked up, uh, the story, uh, the next day in a major front page, uh, piece, uh, outlining, a terrific piece, outlining the, uh, uh, the orders of the court and immediately thereafter, uh, there was, uh, picked up all over the country. Of course The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Pittsburg Post-Gazette picked it up, uh, the newspapers across the country in Scranton, excuse me across the state immediately picked it up in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and then, uh, the next day the, uh, papers across the country, uh, picked up the story. The, uh, Boston Globe, I remember, The Washington post all had, uh, The Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, I remember The San Francisco Examiner and other papers, uh, picked up this story with, uh, with major reports and then it was about a week later, uh, The New York Times in a major editorial, uh, ran a story on the, uh, implications, uh, of, uh, this court order. It was a very, uh, strong advocacy, uh, story, editorial by the Times sitting the humaneness of the ruling and the fact that it was long overdue and of course pointing to the challenges, uh, ahead, that is, in terms of programs and staffing and so forth. Uh, the other ripples too, , uh, occurred very quickly. There were a number of other cases. I remember, uh, several already underway. There was a case in DC. Uh, The Mills case was a right to education case. There was a case in, , uh, noted case in Alabama. It was the Wyatt case and there were other cases, uh, that, uh, were, uh, brewing, uh, ready to be filed. There is no doubt about it that our own, uh, ruling here in Philadelphia had a major impact on the favorable outcome of those cases. I also remember, uh, talking to Tom. We talked all the time then and, uh, remember him saying to me, “You know Jim what you got to do is get The Arc to set up a seminar. And, uh, why don't we set up he said, a seminar to help train, uh, folks, execs, Arc execs and, uh, uh, State Presidents and others and we'll do it here in Philadelphia and, uh, why don't you set this up?”. Tom was good at giving orders and, uh, I said of course, terrific idea. Let's do it and so, uh, my good friend, uh, Stu Brown who was chair of our legal advocacy committee at the state level and I. We put this together. Stu took, took charge of this and, uh, he was magnificent. We had a daylong meeting, here in Philadelphia. I remember that so distinctly and we had about 50 people from all over the country who came in. Uh, state presidents and execs and others and, uh, we went through the, the dynamics of this case and how it came about and, and how it was organized and how the case was assembled, uh, for the court. And, uh, I remember at the very end, uh, over hearing several people saying as they left to go back home. We're going to do this, we're going to get this started in our state, we've got to do this now. So that was another ripple effect, uh, of, uh, this, uh, extraordinary ruling that was handed down by the federal district court, here in Philadelphia.
04:49:41:22 - 04:51:28:00
Lisa: Do you know how long it took other states to adopt some of the legislation?
Jim: They picked up right away on it. Uh, I,I know, uh, the Mills case as I just cited just a moment ago down in DC, uh, the ruling was handed down, uh, shortly thereafter. It was very favorable, uh, to, uh, to the outcome that, uh, we, uh, were working for. Uh, that is provide access, uh, and appropriate, uh, education and training to all and I emphasize all, of our kids. And there were a number of other cases that picked up right away on this. There was a ground swell. Of course, uh, The Arc, uh, in Pennsylvania was beating the drums. I mean, I was one of the drum majors and we were beating the drums, uh, to get the word out to create the ripple effect, uh, and, uh, of course other organizations jumped on this right away. Uh, our national association, uh, moved quickly, uh, to get out, uh, information to all the states, uh, and the local units , uh, ,of course, there was CEC which jumped on it right away UCP and many other organizations, uh, that focused on the disabled jumped on this right away. Remember that this was 17 years after, uh, the, uh, Brown ruling which was 1954 which struck down of course the separate, uh, but equal notion and it took us 17 years. Our case was, that was a precedent case for our case, our right to education case. Took us 17 years, uh, to pick up on that ruling and extend that Supreme Court ruling to our people.
04:51:28:00 - 04:55:57:13
Lisa: The New York Times, you talked about the editorial which was so wonderful and support of the legislation, um, it also definitely noted that the implementation would be challenging and in fact it was. I believe that the court gave the state a year and maybe extended to about a year and a half to not only bring schools and teachers, um, up to speed, in terms of educating children but finding children who were either underserved or not served at all and I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about the efforts to implement the consent decree.
Jim: It was a major project. Uh, we didn't realize, uh, what we in for. We thought, all the sudden now this manna, uh, from heaven dropped down and everything would just happen. Well, of course it did not and, uh, the common wealth, uh, PARC, the state association and the Philadelphia association were very active in the implementation and, uh, the, uh, first phase of it, uh, was compile as I recall which was to identify and locate and evaluate these children and of course, uh, there was thousands of these, uh, school age youngsters who had been denied access, uh, to, uh, public educations sitting in back rooms and homes and so forth and, uh, we had to find those, uh, kids and, uh, Milt Shapp who was the governor then of course he was the governor who had, uh, ordered his attorney general to sit down with us, uh, and after one day of testimony in the federal district court here and, uh, work out a consent decree so he was very much on board, uh, with what we were doing. He was, uh, a major, uh, influencer and he moved very quickly to, on the state level to begin the implementation process. So, our first phase was to get, uh, involved at which we were at the state association level in finding these kids and I recall, uh, directly, uh, that, directly the association setup. We set up a child hunt program and, uh, we put together kits that - we sent kits out to all of our, uh, local units or county units all over the state to help them to locate these kids, uh, because these were kids that were as I started to say a moment ago that were difficult to identify. They were kids who had been hidden away in back rooms in homes all across the common wealth. So, that was a major first step and The Arc was very much involved in, in identifying, uh, and getting those kids identified and evaluated too. Then the second, uh, phase of that which was Compet and, uh, that phase of, of course, uh, uh, was the effort that one of the two masters, Dennis Haggerty was one and, uh, Ignacy Goldberg, who was then a professor, a professor of Special Education up at Teshiva in New York City. He focused on that, uh, dimension of the implementation process and, uh, the Arc played a very important role in that, uh, over the long run. The fourth, uh, the, uh, 14th amendment, due process, um, element of the consent decree of course, uh, was to set up the mechanism for hearings and that mechanism was, uh, as Tom would, uh, has said at that time, that was so extraordinarily important and, uh, those hearings of course were designated, uh, for, uh, kids in school as I recall on change of assignment or every two years or I should say and every two years. Uh, those hearings were so very important and, uh, the state association played a major role, an advocacy role supporting the parents and supporting others at those hearings so. The state association played a major role, uh, in the follow up in the, uh, compete phase of the implementation.
04:55:57:13 - 04:56:56:07
Lisa: Jim, do you remember how many children were identified as part of the process? Even a guesstimate...
Jim: I boy, I, you know, I don't really recall, uh, the number that. I remember it was in the thousands and, uh, I remember, uh, that, uh, we went all over the state, uh, Pat Clapp became president of the state association. At that point I was kind of exhausted so, uh, probably a good time for Pat, who was terrific. She was absolutely terrific so she, uh, picked up on that and, uh, she went all over the state talking to the local communist to get them involved and getting, uh, uh, phone calls out to people through the local Arcs, uh, getting, uh, uh, messages out, letters, etc. to find these kids but I don't recall the exact number but I recall it was in the thousand, many thousands.
04:56:56:07 - 04:58:44:27
Lisa: What was the response from parents, who for the first time were getting some support for their children?
Jim: I think they were bewildered. I, I think they were so, they were just bewildered. They, they were so excited and, uh, that this opportunity which they never expected it would come. They expected to have their kids in backrooms or they were on the waiting list, these kids, most these kids to Pennhurst or to Polk or to one of the other state institutions. They thought that was the end, uh, and, that was the best that they could hope for to send a kid or a youngster, a young adult over to Pennhurst, to a place like Polk and that, that was it and, uh, they were, they were amazed, just absolutely amazed. I remember talking to them and, and, uh, that's when the state associations advocacy, uh, program really came into focus and, uh, working with those parents. Trying to bring them along, helping them to understand, helping them to cope , uh,with this whole new environment. Helping them to, uh, be advocates, uh, for their kids and school at which they had to be and, uh, that was a very important role that the state association grew into very quickly and Tom expected this. He pointed this out. I remember, early to me and said, uh, this provision, this mechanism in the court ruling, uh, is as important as any of the other, uh, stipulations in that court ruling.
04:58:44:27 - 05:01:56:22
Lisa: PARC (Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens) would work with Tom Gilhool, certainly again on litigation to close Pennhurst. Pennhurst was closed in 1987 so it took another 15 years to realize your dream of closing institutions from those initial conversations, um, back with the PARC board members and the park membership and your early conversations with Tom Gilhool. So I am wondering how it felt to finally see that goal realized.
Jim: I think it was, uh, just, uh, an extraordinary time but I think that after the, uh, right to education victory and keep in mind of course that, uh, that all led to, uh, the first civil rights act for the disabled. I think it was section 504 of the rehab act of '73 and then of course the monumental 1975, uh, Education for All Handicaped Children Act which was, uh, a paradigm change for American education. After we had achieved that and all that happened subsequent, uh, federal monies, uh, coming into the states. The state matching monies, the, uh, special education teachers, uh, being, uh, retained and brought into the schools, there was a sense of renewing. We're going to do it. We're going to get Pennhurst closed and of course Pennhurst, that it is closing or even before that, uh, triggered, uh, the changes, uh, as I recall to The Social Security Act which provided the funding , uh, for community services and that was a national impact, uh, that, uh, The Halderman case, led by Tom and of course, uh, he argued the case several times before the U.S. Supreme Court and it did take, uh, 7, 8 years to reach its end and for Pennhurst to be closed, uh, but, uh, the accomplishment of after right to education, uh, the accomplishment of, uh, the establishment of community services across the country. Uh, those accomplishments were absolutely amazing and, uh, I think looking back on it, it was a time, it was a time of revolutionaries. We were revolutionaries. We were, uh, just, uh, on the, on the edge fighting and, uh, uh, not because of me but because of people like Tom and Pat Clapp and Gunner Dybwad and Dennis Haggerty and my good dear friend Stewart Brown. These were the folks who brought this to life and made it happen.
05:01:56:22 - 05:03:37:09
Lisa: In supporting all of this, um, incredible, um, social change, um, I, I have heard you refer to this as, in some ways a mothers' movement and I wonder was it a mothers' movement that really spurned, spurred on or supported your efforts.
Jim: I, I think it was initially a mothers' movement, uh, I think the mothers were the, uh, true first advocates. Uh, I don't think there's any doubt about it now that's based in part on my own personal experience. My mother was, uh, as I have said, uh, a dynamic early leader, fearless leader, fearless advocate, uh, uh, but then it spread and, uh, then I think we have to be very grateful for the professionals who became involved. Uh, the legal advocates like Tom, uh, the other professionals that came in, uh, and, uh, became involved. Uh, the, uh, the organizations that, uh, uh, jumped in, uh, the, uh, The Center for the Handicapped at, uh, Notre Dame, uh, The Center for Law and Education up at Harvard, uh, so I think it was the mothers at the very beginning, uh, but, uh, it spread and it spread quickly and it was a firestorm, uh, certainly, uh, in the 50's and 60's. 50's of course was the time of the organization of the, uh, associations. They were called parent associations and they were formed, uh, answer to your question again directly, uh, certainly by the mothers who were right on the frontline at the very beginning.
More Interview Chapters
- Family and Early Career
- The ARC of Pennsylvania and Early Advocacy
- YOU ARE HERE: The Right to Education and PARC Consent Decree
- The Need for Ongoing Advocacy
About Jim Wilson
Born: 1934, Philadelphia, PA
Publishing Executive. President, Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) 1968-71. President, National Association for Retarded Children (NARC) 1977-79.
PARC, Civil Rights Movement, Tom Gilhool, Dennis Haggerty, Right to Education, Siblings, ARC