Public schools required to offer equal opportunity or alternative option
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights announced that all schools receiving federal funds must now include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide an equal alternative option.
How will this affect the students?
“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,” said Education Secretary Arne Ducan in her statement after the announcement on the new guidelines,
Studies conducted by the Government Accountability Office in 2010 found students with disabilities do not participate in sports as frequently as non-disabled students. With the new guidelines in place, disabled student sport participation should increase dramatically.
It should be noted that disabled students will be required to compete on the same level as their peers to participate in school sport programs. Rules can be altered to allow for equal play in some sports. Examples of some of these alterations are a visual cue at the start of a track race or continual physical contact for a blind wrestler. In some cases alternative teams will have to be created. Larger schools could fill a team easily, but district teams might be a better option for more rural schools.
How will this affect schools?
Schools and colleges will be required to make reasonable modifications for students with disabilities or create a parallel athletic program. With the new rules being compared to Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination and paved the way for the expansion of athletic opportunities for women, there is speculation that school’s athletics budgets will be affected by the new guidelines. There are predictions of school’s cutting other activities or sports teams to fund the inclusion of disabled students. Additional training for educators and coaches will also be needed.
At this stage there is no time limit for schools to implement these new changes into their sports programs. Some states have already been offering such programs. Maryland and Minnesota have led the way by adopting equal opportunity sport programs for their students in physical education and mainstream athletic teams.
We should start to see these new rules weave their way into athletic programs slowly over the next few years. One of the first steps is to identify students who would qualify and can be integrated onto traditional sports teams. For the students who cannot participate on the regular sport teams, creating an adaptive program becomes the next challenge.
We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our client Tommie Storms and the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, Inc. for their active role in this new legislation.