Illinois attorney general files federal suit to allow disabled students to compete in state athletic association meets
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed suit in federal court, seeking to make it possible for student-athletes with disabilities to compete in future Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state meets. The suit asks for an injunction ordering IHSA “to cease unlawful discrimination against athletes with disabilities,” and to create more opportunities for athletes with disabilities by setting state-qualifying standards for those athletes in individual sports, including swimming and track and field.
According to Madigan, the suit would not require schools to allow paraplegics to play football and would not require significant new spending beyond that to train officials. “The Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) has offered over the years to work with the IHSA to put these standards and times in place,” she said. “They have worked with a lot of other states; Wisconsin and Minnesota are way ahead of us.”
The suit states that Mary Kate Callahan, a disabled student at Fenwick High School (FHS), and representatives from GLASA and FHS have asked IHSA to make accommodations for disabled athletes at state track and swimming meets, but “IHSA did not respond to these requests.” Instead, the suit says, IHSA filed a lawsuit of its own in April 2012 in state court in McLean County.
“The reason we did that is we received a letter from the Attorney General’s office [saying] they felt we were violating state and federal law,” IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said. “We said, we don’t believe we’re in violation of any law with respect to these issues. Their response, almost to the word, was, ‘We won’t talk about the law.’” “We weren’t looking to turn this into a fight. We filed for a declaratory judgment asking the court to tell us what our obligations are. We’re perplexed by this filing,” said Hickman.
In the meantime, IHSA has set up a committee to consider additional options for disabled athletes. The committee heard testimony from representatives from GLASA, parents and schools on April 30, 2012, and is to report its progress to the IHSA Board of Directors on June 11, 2012.
Source: Chicago Sun-Times, 5/15/12, By Mike Clark and Abdon M. Pallasch
[Editor's Note: In February 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, which reported that David Barker, a disabled student, had filed suit against the Chino Valley Unified School District alleging that he had been barred from Ayala High School's baseball program due to his disabilities.
For a discussion on the effect of Maryland law and policy on the participation of disabled students in interscholastic athletics, see the 2008 COSA School Law Seminar article by Stephen C. Bounds, General Counsel, and John R. Woolums, Director of Government Relations, of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education titled Participation of Disabled Athletes in Mainstream Athletic Programs with Accommodations (available to COSA members only).]