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Schools ordered to open athletic programs to students with disabilities

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press


WASHINGTON » Breaking new ground, the U.S. Education Department is telling schools they must include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide equal alternative options. The directive, reminiscent of the Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for women, could bring sweeping changes to school budgets and locker rooms for years to come.

Schools would be required to make "reasonable modifications" for students with disabilities or create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing as mainstream programs.

"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 a statement announcing the new guidance on Friday.

Federal laws, including the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, require states to provide a free public education to all students and bans schools that receive federal funds from discriminating against students with disabilities. Going further, the new directive from the Education Department's civil rights division explicitly tells schools and colleges that access to interscholastic, intramural and intercollegiate athletics is a right.

"This is a landmark moment for students with disabilities. This will do for students with disabilities what Title IX did for women," said Terri Lakowski, who led a coalition pushing for the changes for a decade. "This is a huge victory."

Education Department officials emphasized they did not intend to change sports' traditions dramatically or guarantee students with disabilities a spot on competitive teams. Instead, they insisted schools cannot exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates.

"It's not about changing the nature of the game or the athletic activity," said Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department.

It's not clear whether the new guidelines will spark a sudden uptick in sports participation. There was a big increase in female participation in sports after Title IX guidance instructed schools to treat female athletics on par with male teams. That led many schools to cut some men's teams, arguing that it was necessary to be able to pay for women's teams.

There is no deadline for schools to comply with the new disabilities directive.­

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tiwtsfm wrote:
About time.
on January 25,2013 | 04:52AM
Bdpapa wrote:
How are they going to be able to participate equally? The canoe paddlers have a section, and it works well, but for most sports it's gonna be difficult, unless they have a section for them. But for the major sports almost impossible. After all that, they do deserve something.
on January 25,2013 | 05:20AM
juscasting wrote:
Wot if da person has no arms? Jus saying...But true for all sports. I remember seeing a high school softball game at Mckinley High few years ago, don't remember who versus who, they had a disability girl on the team and they let her play outfield one inning. They made her play far, far right field. She was so happy to play and the crowd cheered when the inning was over. Truly inspirational.
on January 25,2013 | 10:37AM
eastside808 wrote:
Another victory for the minority thus taxing the majority. Federal mandates with no funds continue to deplete a diminishing pot of state and municipal money.
on January 25,2013 | 09:20AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
This may spell the end of school ping pong teams.
on January 25,2013 | 11:26AM
hilopango wrote:
Once again, athletics trumps academics. More money for sports, less for classrooms.
on January 25,2013 | 12:23PM
kennie1933 wrote:
Quote: "Education Department officials emphasized they did not intend to change sports' traditions dramatically or guarantee students with disabilities a spot on competitive teams. Instead, they insisted schools cannot exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates." The last portion of the last phrase says it all: "...IF they can keep up with their classmates." So here's the thing. If students are trying out for, say, the baseball team, and the coach feels he wants the best pitchers, hitters, and runners, that is not an unreasonalbe thing to ask. So, if 50 students try-out, and the coach wants the top 20, that means 30 students will not make the team either because they are no among the best pitchers, hitters, or runners. A disabled student should go through the same try-out procedures; otherwise, it would be unfair to able-bodied students if given preferential treatment. So, if the disabled student IS among the best qualified, then he should be on the team. That should settle it. If, say, he has only one arm but can manage to catch and throw as well as able-bodied players, then of course, he should be allowed to play.....if he is one of the top 20 in the try-outs. But, if a team MUST allow a disabled player to play no matter how good or bad he does in try-outs, then you have another situation.
on January 25,2013 | 12:43PM
Bdpapa wrote:
The disabled player would feel bad if that player took someome elses slot who was better. This does not help anyone.
on January 25,2013 | 01:14PM
kennie1933 wrote:
You know, after I wrote the comment, I thought about another landmark policy that has been in existence for years: affirmative action.
on January 25,2013 | 01:22PM
sluggah wrote:
But his lawyer wouldn't!
on January 25,2013 | 07:13PM
fairgame947 wrote:
Great idea, but even some able bodied students don't make the team. It's unfair to states and municipalities to come down with an edict of this nature with NO monies. Maybe Special Olympics can get involved.
on January 25,2013 | 02:13PM
pridon wrote:
Gives new meaning to being "blind sided" in a football game. I want to see a blind pitcher and a blind catcher.
on January 25,2013 | 02:59PM
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