Feds: Include Kids with Disabilities on School Athletic Teams

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Today the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is sending all school districts a 13-page manual that specifies the rights of students with disabilities to participate in extra-curricular athletic programs, including competitive teams.

See the Huffington Post, the Star-Ledger, and The Record for national and local coverage.

The federal directive (which, alas, contains no time lines) is considered by some to be comparable to Title IX, which greatly expanded the rights of girls to participate in sports. The new guidelines on inclusion for kids with disabilities was instigated by 84 complaints from parents to the Civil Rights Office over the last few years. 

Currently in NJ, opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in athletics vary widely from district to district. The specificity of  these new requirements will affect sports teams, budgets, and equity. Schools will need to widen their perspectives on the mission of athletics programs, hire extra aides and coaches, and create more inclusive environments.

The Huffington Post has this:

The guidance document outlines five principles with specific examples for enforcement of the law, according to Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Education Department Office of Civil Rights. Schools can’t rely on generalizations of a student’s disabilities when crafting their sports offerings. They must consider each student and provide “reasonable modifications” to games, but not “fundamental alterations” that would significantly change the game or give students with disabilities an advantage. It requires that sports programs be safe.  

School districts also have to provide qualified students with required aides — during school and after school. For example, a student with diabetes who has a school aide monitor his blood sugar and insulin during the school day is entitled to that aide during extracurricular gymnastics.

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