Students with disabilities must have sports options
Participation in high school sports can play an important part in a student's school experience and have a lasting impact on their lives, and students with disabilities are no different than their peers without disabilities when it comes to benefiting from participating in sports.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released guidance that clarifies existing legal obligations of schools to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate alongside their peers in after-school athletics and clubs.
The Department reiterated that schools may not exclude students who have an intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other disability from trying out and playing on a team, if they are otherwise qualified. This guidance builds on a resource document the Department issued in 2011 that provides important information on improving opportunities for children and youth with disabilities to access PE and athletics.
Federal civil rights laws require schools to provide equal opportunities, not give anyone an unfair head start. So schools don't have to change the essential rules of the game, and they don't have to do anything that would provide a student with a disability an unfair competitive advantage.
Schools do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to ensure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else.
The guidance issued Friday will help schools meet this obligation and will allow increasing numbers of kids with disabilities the chance to benefit from playing sports.
An Associated Press report clarifies that disabled students who want to play for their school could join traditional teams if officials can make "reasonable modifications" to accommodate them.
If those adjustments would fundamentally alter a sport or give the student an advantage, the Department is directing schools to create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing to traditional programs.