Montana Center for Inclusive Education

Montana Center History

book cover, Montana Center on Disabilities: Focusing on Abilities by Sue HartThe Montana Center for Cerebral Palsy opened its doors on November 4, 1947 in the basement of McMullen Hall. Services included a part-time school, speech therapy, and physical therapy. Participating counties included Yellowstone, Big Horn, Carbon, Stillwater, and Treasure. The program was sponsored by the Montana State Board of Health, Eastern Montana College of Education, Montana Society for Crippled Children and Adults, and the Billings Kiwanis Club. In 1948 the services extended to Carter, Custer, Powder River, and Rosebud counties. A second special education teacher, an occupational therapist, and a part-time psychologist joined the staff. Eight (8) children were enrolled in the school and 43 children participated in the medical clinics.


The Center became the Montana Center for Cerebral Palsy and Handicapped Children in 1955. The area of service was extended to the entire state of Montana. Services were available for all children with disabilities. By 1958, 31 children were enrolled in the school. In a ten year period from 1948-1958, the number of clinics increased to 261 and 1,012 children were evaluated.


1967 was a very important year as restructuring by the Board of Regents formally made the Center a part of Eastern Montana College in July. Partial funding was through public service moneys; the remainder included self-generated revenue, gifts, contract, and grants.


The Center, now the Montana Center for Handicapped Children, moved into the new Special Education Building in November 1972, which coincided with the 25th anniversary celebration. Cleft palate, spina bifida, and medical clinics were held and a self-contained school was housed in the building. The ages of the students ranged from birth to 25 years old. Respite care was also added to the program.


The early 80's brought a focus change from a medical model to an educational model. The Center had five classrooms: four elementary and one secondary. Twenty four of the students were residents of Yellowstone County, nine were out of county residents, and one was an out of state resident. Governor Ted Schwinden notified The Center that it was selected as one of the four exemplary education programs servicing children with disabilities in Montana.


A major change occurred in 1986 when Billings School District 2 integrated the children attending the Center’s school into their neighborhood schools. The Hearing Conservation Program serving 12 Montana counties and 9,000 children per year was added.


Department of Health and Environmental Sciences funded medical clinics that provided service to 250 clients per year. The Center held a 40th anniversary party and the Radio Reading service started reading on the air in 1988.


In 1990 the EMC Preschool was moved to the Special Education Building in the multi-purpose room and placed under Montana Center supervision. The preschool was now inclusive in that it served students who did not have disabilities. Respite Care continued to be provided until the spring of 1993. In addition, 1993 brought the Projects With Industry (PWI) federal grant under Montana Center supervision during the 3rd year of a 5 year cycle. PWI served 72 adults with 23 different disabling conditions over five years and worked with 35 employers. The Montana Brain Injury Association, Parent's Lets Unite for Kids, and the EMC Telecommunications department were housed in the first floor of the Special Education building. The mid 90's included significant changes in focus and involved a legislative name change to the Montana Center on Disabilities. This change represented the Center’s intention to include support for adults with disabilities.


In 2000, the Special Education Building, now called the College of Education, was remodeled. Two floors were added and the faculty and staff that had been located in the Education Building were relocated. Thus began an era of increased collaboration between the College of Education and the Montana Center. Soon after, the Center’s mission and vision statements were changed to emphasize a commitment to creating a fully inclusive society and the Center’s work focused on four areas; the advancement of youth with disabilities, community outreach, professional development, and technical assistance. A 60th anniversary celebration was held in 2007. This provided an opportunity to make these changes known to those with an interest in the Center as well as to the general public through a variety of means including the publication of a book, Montana Center on Disabilities: Focusing on Abilities by Sue Hart; an Open House featuring a book signing by Sue Hart and recognition of Dr. Peery, a former Montana Center director who helped design the Center’s state-of-the-art facility for children with disabilities; and an awards dinner honoring recipients of the Montana Center Hall of Fame for People with Disabilities, Faculty Awards for Exceptional Service to Students with Disabilities, and the Montana Center Scholarship. 


In 2012, the Montana Center on Disabilities requested a name change and an update to the Vision and Mission Statements. This request was approved by the Montana Board of Regents; the name change to the Montana Center for Inclusive Education reflected the Center’s charge to provide professional development as it moves towards a vision of creating a fully inclusive society that values diversity. The new mission reflects this vision by continuing the commitment to serve the diverse population of Montana and to provide continuing professional development opportunities for educators and direct service providers.