Students With Disabilities Need Sports

Disabled Children Sports Schools | The Maher Law FirmExercise in itself is a vital part of growth and development for all human beings.

In an article by Tracy Connor, Sr. Staff Writer, NBC News – Tracy highlights the seemingly simple fact that children with disabilities need sports just as students without disabilities need sports.

The “New Order” from the Education Department says athletics is also a civil right for the disabled and schools that don’t protect it could lose federal funding.

According to the “New Order” from the U.S. Department Of Education, Office For Civil Rights:


  —Students with disabilities in extracurricular athletics

I. Overview of Section 504 Requirements

To better understand the obligations of school districts with respect to extracurricular athletics for students with disabilities, it is helpful to review Section 504’s requirements.

Under the Department’s Section 504 regulations, a school district is required to provide a qualified student with a disability an opportunity to benefit from the school district’s program equal to that of students without disabilities. For purposes of Section 504, a person with a disability is one who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. 5 With respect to public elementary and secondary educational services, “qualified” means a person (i) of an age during which persons without disabilities are provided such services, (ii) of any age during which it is mandatory under state law to provide such services to persons with disabilities, or (iii) to whom a state is required to provide a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 6

Of course, simply because a student is a “qualified” student with a disability does not mean that the student must be allowed to participate in any selective or competitive program offered by a school district; school districts may require a level of skill or ability of a student in order for that student to participate in a selective or competitive program or activity, so long as the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory.  Among other things, the Department’s Section 504 regulations prohibit school districts from:

  • denying a qualified student with a disability the opportunity to participate in or benefit from an aid, benefit, or service;
  • affording a qualified student with a disability an opportunity to participate in or benefit from an aid, benefit, or service that is not equal to that afforded others;
  • providing a qualified student with a disability with an aid, benefit, or service that is not as effective as that provided to others and does not afford that student with an equal opportunity to obtain the same result, gain the same benefit, or reach the same level of achievement in the most integrated setting appropriate to the student’s needs;
  • providing different or separate aid, benefits, or services to students with disabilities or to any class of students with disabilities unless such action is necessary to provide a qualified student with a disability with aid, benefits, or services that are as effective as those provided to others; and
  • otherwise limiting a qualified individual with a disability in the enjoyment of any right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity enjoyed by others receiving an aid, benefit, or service.

The Department’s Section 504 regulations also require school districts to provide a free appropriate public education (Section 504 FAPE) to each qualified person with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s disability.

To read the full “New Order” click here

The underlying question to the “New Order” is: Can public schools afford the huge financial burden the directive could mandate?

Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (a right leaning educational research nonprofit) said, “I’m sympathetic to the idea that kids with disabilities should be able to play sports, but this is an incredible example of executive overreach and a huge unfunded mandate, it’s not clear how far schools have to go.  Is wheelchair basketball enough or do they need to have wheelchair tennis and other sports, too?”

Ron Ingram, a spokesman for Alabama High School Athletic Association, said ” I think, based on what I’ve read so far, the biggest impact will just remind us all that we do need to go to great lengths to make sure all our student athletes are not discriminated against.”


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