June 7, 2010

Lawrence Larsen, 71, professor emeritus of special education

Lawrence “Larry” Larsen, professor emeritus of special education, died on May 21 at his Towson home after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Larsen joined the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University in 1976 and was a professor of special education and program adviser in severe and profound disabilities and early childhood special education. In addition to serving as coordinator of special education programs through 1988, he played a key role in developing what is now the School of Education’s Center for Technology in Education. He retired in June 2004, when he was named professor emeritus of special education.

A fierce advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families, Larsen played a key role in PARC vs. Pennsylvania, a 1971 lawsuit demanding that the state provide access to education for children with disabilities. A consent decree was issued stating that education should be provided for all children regardless of any physical or mental handicap. The federal Department of Education used this consent decree to issue its federal mandate for education for all.

From 1990 through March 1996, Larsen also served as co-director of the Parents’ Place of Maryland, a federally funded nonprofit organization that provides information, assistance and support to the parents and families of children with disabilities. In later years, he helped in the development of special education programs internationally, consulting frequently with agencies in Venezuela, Uruguay and Taiwan.

“Larry’s most enduring contribution is the inspiration he provided to his students who have gone on to become instructors [and] policy-makers and have provided needed support to individuals with disabilities,” said Michael Rosenberg, associate dean for research in the School of Education, a longtime friend and colleague.

Larsen, who was born in North Dakota, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Dakota and his doctorate in psychology from George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. From 1970 to 1976, he was director of Psychology and Special Education at Western Carolina Center, a North Carolina state institution for people with mental and physical disabilities.

Larsen is survived by his wife, Carol; two children, Maren and Jason; and four grandchildren.

His family has asked that memorial contributions be made to Santa Claus Anonymous. Faculty, staff and alumni can share their thoughts and stories about Larsen on the School of Education’s social networking sites, SOETalk and Facebook.