The Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education released detailed guidance outlining how public schools and school districts should comply with existing laws to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletic programs.
OCR was prompted to provide this guidance by a 2010 Government Accountability Report – the investigative arm of Congress – which found that students with disabilities were not being afforded an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics in public elementary and secondary schools, according to the document.
On a call with stakeholders today, Seth Galanter, Acting Assistant Secretary for OCR stated, “we’re all on the same team.” Galanter explained how the guidance centers around five principles: (1) every child must be treated as an individual; (2) ensuring equal opportunity for participation; (3) providing children and youth with disabilities with needed aids and services to ensure access to equal opportunity; (4) offering separate or different athletic opportunities; and (5) expanding opportunities and inclusion.
According to the guidance, “a school district must make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, or procedures whenever such modifications are necessary to ensure equal opportunity, unless the school district can demonstrate that the requested modification would constitute a fundamental alteration of the nature of the extracurricular athletic activity.”
The guidance continues that if a student with a disability cannot participate in the school districts existing athletics program – even with modifications, aids, or services – then a school district should create additional opportunities for those students with disabilities. Such opportunities may include athletic activities that are separate or different from those offered to students without disabilities such as disability-specific teams for sports. OCR states that unnecessarily separate or different services are discriminatory.
CEC is encouraged that OCR is providing guidance to schools and districts about the inclusion of students with disabilities in athletic programs. As U.S. Secretary of Arne Duncan stated, “Playing sports at any level—club, intramural, or interscholastic—can be a key part of the school experience and have an immense and lasting impact on a student’s life. Among its many benefits, participation in extracurricular athletic activities promotes socialization, the development of leadership skills, focus, and, of course, physical fitness.”
Read more here.
Read the OCR Guidance here.