OCR issues “Dear Colleague Letter” Stating Schools Should Ensure Disabled Students Have Access to Extracurricular Activities
The USA Today reports that the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has sent a letter to school officials across the United States informing school districts that they must give disabled students equal access to extracurricular activities. The letter issued by ED’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Seth Galanter states schools should provide “reasonable modifications” to allow disabled students to participate – for instance, providing a deaf track athlete with a flashing light that goes off simultaneously with the starter pistol that others hear.
Kirk Bauer, Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA, applauded OCR’s action, noting 12 states require school sports programs to accommodate disabled students, and that now, other administrators “will start focusing on ways to provide those opportunities” to students who have a disability. “It’s really affording them access to terrific social situations that will hopefully break down some of the barriers and discrimination we’ve seen in the past,” said Lindsay Jones of the Council for Exceptional Children.
The letter comes two-and-a-half years after a 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation that found students with disabilities participated in athletics “at consistently lower rates than students without disabilities.” The report was historic, disabilities rights advocates say, because for the first time it put firm statistics behind what they’d been saying for years. The report said the Obama administration had given schools “little information or guidance on (physical education) or extracurricular athletics for students with disabilities.”
Source: USA Today, 1/25/13, By Greg Toppo
[Editor's Note: Additional information from the NSBA will be forthcoming, so stay tuned.
OCR's January 25, 2013 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) states: "A school district’s legal obligation to comply with Section 504 and the Department’s regulations supersedes any rule of any association, organization, club, or league that would render a student ineligible to participate, or limit the eligibility of a student to participate, in any aid, benefit, or service on the basis of disability."
The DCL also warns school officials against acting on stereotypes and generalizations:
A school district may not operate its program or activity on the basis of generalizations, assumptions, prejudices, or stereotypes about disability generally, or specific disabilities in particular. A school district also may not rely on generalizations about what students with a type of disability are capable of—one student with a certain type of disability may not be able to play a certain type of sport, but another student with the same disability may be able to play that sport.
In May 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Chicago Sun-Times reporting 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 asked 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.]