In 1968, the Director of the Roxbury Multi-Service Center, Hubie Jones, started noticing some troubling trends. An increasing number of parents were being told that their children should not return to school. After an early report of some 3,000 families whose children were being illegally excluded from school, and speaking with people at similar agencies around the city, Jones realized that this was not just a problem in Roxbury, but in all of Boston. Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and the Boston Public Schools heard about these allegations during a conference convened by Jones, but were very defensive, denying any illegal activity and insisting that there was no proof. They agreed, though, to sanction and serve on the Task Force on Children out of School, created by Hubie Jones, to formally study the nature of the problem.
One year later, on October 14, 1970, headlines blared throughout the city of a newly uncovered scandal. The Task Force report revealed that ten thousand or more children were either being systematically excluded from Boston’s public education system or warehoused in classrooms or schools that provided inferior or custodial care. The bulk of these children were Spanish-speaking, mainly from Puerto Rico. Thousands were misclassified as mentally retarded. Others had behavior problems too difficult to handle or had been branded as “unteachable” because of their physical handicaps or other disabilities. Some were girls who had been barred from school simply because they had become pregnant.
That report, The Way We Go to School: Children Excluded in Boston, profoundly changed the landscape of education in Massachusetts, and ultimately the nation. The exclusion of children from the most fundamental right in our society to a public education struck a deep nerve and triggered a flurry of legislative activity. Led by Brighton state representative Michael Daly (a Task Force member) and Speaker David Bartley from Holyoke, the Legislature passed the nation’s first bi-lingual education law in 1971. A year later it passed the nation’s first special educa¬tion law, Chapter 766, which, in turn, served as the model for the first federal special education law, passed in 1975. The Task Force itself also filed a class action suit seeking publicly funded education for more than 1,300 emotionally disturbed children.
Representative Daly used the data from the report to help draft the legislation and then initiated an inclusive process that involved numerous stakeholders to provide input to successive drafts of the bill until, according to Robert Crabtree, special education attorney who was Daly’s research director at the time, “key points of contention had been resolved by consensus or by compromise…MAC can take pride in having been…not just a source of information on the populations that were excluded from school but a powerful organizing force that inspired [Rep. Daly] to take that information and transform it into a comprehensive legislative response.”
MAC’S first report also became the model for a similar report for the nation by the Children’s Defense Fund, founded in 1973 by Marian Wright Edelman, who was working in Massachusetts at the time of the Task Force report and saw the impact it had. That report, Children Out of School in America, was instrumental in the passage of the first special education law in the nation, Education for All Handicapped Children Act, in 1975.
In the forward to the first Task Force report, Hubie Jones stated that, “The chief intention of the Task Force is to move beyond the comfort of indictment to the achievement of corrective action.”
During the next two decades, MAC's legislative and administrative advocacy led to reforms in child mental health, vocational education, lead poisoning prevention, student retention policies and child nutrition. MAC sued successfully to force the Boston Public Schools to live up to its special education obligations.In 1992, MAC became part of the network of civil legal aid agencies in Massachusetts, and through that network, began the Children's Law Support Project, identifying emerging children's needs and providing back-up legal support to legal service agencies around the state.
During the 1990s, MAC added community outreach and coalition-building components to work with parent and community organizations for educational equity in Boston and to protect Chapter 766 statewide.
MAC’s current programs are each deeply rooted in MAC’s history, as depicted in the web page for each program.