Schools Must Provide Sports for Students with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Education today issued a statement declaring public schools at the K-12 level must provide opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in athletic programs.
A U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report in 2010 found that many schools do not provide students with disabilities ways to participate in extracurricular sports activities. The report also noted that access to and participation in sports activities provide health and social benefits to students, and recommended the DOE clarify schools obligations to provide those opportunities to students with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The guidance letter released today from the DOE's Office of Civil Rights outlines the specific provisions of Section 504 that require districts to provide equal opportunities for participation in extracurricular activities to students with disabilities, and provides a number of examples of ways to appropriately provide those opportunities.
According to a DOE press release, examples of modifications to facilitate participation of students with disabilities in sports activities include:
- "The allowance of a visual cue alongside anstarter pistol to allow a student with a hearing impairment who is fast enough to qualify for the track team the opportunity to compete.
- The waiver of a rule requiring the "two-hand touch" finish in swim events so that a one-armed swimmer with the requisite ability can participate at swim meets."
Schools may provide separate athletic options for students with disabilities when a specific student is unable to participate in existing programs, even with modifications or supports, or when students with disabilities interests and abilities cannot be effectively met by existing programs. However, whenever possible, schools should attempt to integrate students with disabilities into existing athletic programs with non-disabled peers. The guidance letter calls it "discriminatory" if a district creates a separate program for students with disabilities unnecessarily. Additionally, districts are encouraged to work with community organizations and other groups to provide these opportunities.
"Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in the press release.