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Edward W. Sontag, national leader in special education

Jan. 5, 1938 – Aug. 14. 2014

Edward W. Sontag, 76, a former Buffalo resident and national leader in special education, died unexpectedly Aug. 14 in his Arlington, Va., home. He was 76.

Born in Los Angeles, he spent his early childhood at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, Calif., before moving to Buffalo as a youngster.

After graduating from Buffalo Evening High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from Buffalo State in 1963 and a master’s degree in 1967. In 1970, he earned a doctorate from Syracuse University in special education administration.

In 2011, Dr. Sontag established the annual Horace Mann Graduate Research Symposium at SUNY Buffalo State, named in memory of one of his mentors, Dr. Horace Mann, to promote research on academic and behavioral outcomes for a wide range of students with disabilities, from preschool through high school.

In the field of special education, he served in many roles at the local, state and federal levels, working as a teacher, school principal, professor, state administrator and high-ranking official for a variety of federal agencies.

He advocated for the full inclusion of special-needs children in mainstream education and was instrumental in the first federal laws establishing educational rights for children with disabilities. He served as a presidential appointee to the Commission on Excellence in Special Education and a commissioner in the Aspen Institute’s No Child Left Behind Commission.

He was an editor and author of more than 90 books, journal articles and a TV series on education of children with disabilities. He also served as a visiting professor at numerous universities. In 1974, he helped found TASH, an organization of professionals advocating for children with disabilities, and served as an expert consultant in many federal lawsuits that advanced the inclusion of children with disabilities.

Dr. Sontag began his career as a teacher at the Griffith Institute and Central School in Springville, where he taught students with disabilities.

He then served as the director of Students with Disabilities for Madison (Wis.) Public Schools.

From 1972 to 1989, he held various posts at the Department of Education, and from 1989 to 1992, he was a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior. During the 1990s, he was a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education in Stevens Point, and additionally served as a resident scholar on education issues for Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Dr. Sontag returned to Washington in 2001 to serve as assistant secretary for administration and management at the Department of Health and Human Services until 2005, when he joined the Centers for Disease Control, where he remained until his retirement from federal service in 2009.

He is survived by a son, Edward W., and daughter, Mary Kathleen Sontag Richardson, and two grandsons.

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