A Mandate For Including Kids With Disabilities In Sports Raises New Issues

It seems like a Good Thing: Children with disabilities absolutely must be accommodated in extracurricular school sports, says new guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The notice, sent to school districts nationwide, noted that a government report showed that students with disabilities are not “being afforded an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities in public elementary and secondary schools.”

The new guidance explains, clarifies and reinforces schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires accommodations for kids with disabilities. Not all parents of kids with disability are pleased; Andi over at Bringing the Sunshine, mom to a girl with cerebral palsy, raised valid concerns. She acknowledges that schools should attempt to accommodate kids with disabilities who want to play sports, but noted the burden of exorbitant costs on already lean school budgets, the challenge of the varying skill levels that would exist within a team, and potential resentment among school officials, parents and students themselves.

Her points were persuasive, and I tended to agree. Max, who also has cerebral palsy, is in private school for children with special needs. Although, this doesn’t pertain to his situation I know full well how hard it is to include kids with special needs in sports. Something has to be done about those schools that are excluding kids with disabilities from participating in sports.

One solution is to encourage schools to offer a variety of sports options for all students. Perhaps they create more teams just for kids with disabilities, then set up schedules so that they play with other teams. To offset costs, perhaps they join up with organizations that specialize in adaptive sports programs for kids with disabilities, like Disabled Sports USABlazeSports America or The Special Olympics. At the very least, it would be helpful if the U.S. Dept. of Education shared examples of schools that have done it right—case studies that schools could learn from.

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that enforcing schools to accommodate kids with special needs without giving them support (financial or logistical) isn’t the ultimate answer. Schools aren’t doing this, for whatever the reason—and it seems like The U.S. Department of Education needs to teach them how.

From my other blog:

New video: Max’s handwriting 

Shocking (and not-so-shocking) intolerance of kids with special needs

Cool art that shows why the word retard is uncool

Image of boy in wheelchair holding basketball via Shutterstock

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  1. by Nicole@BoyOnARoll

    On February 6, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    I wrote a blog post kind of on these lines a mere few hours before I heard about the notice to schools. My son (with spina bifida, in a wheelchair) was denied playing on the 4/5 yr. old T-ball team in our town because there was a special needs team. They said he could only play on that team. I felt like he was perfectly able to hit a ball off a tee with the other 4 and 5 year old kids, but because there was a special needs baseball team, they said he HAD to play on that one. I felt like they were pigeon-holing him because he is in a wheelchair, and not leaving the decision up to me, his parent, who actually knows what his abilities are. It was a frustrating situation, and we decided not to play him on either team this year because we were fed up. My take-away was that inclusion programs can be a double-edged sword.
    I am trying to be optimistic about the changes this notice could bring – because my son is only 4 and has many years in the school system yet – but it needs to be more than just creating a “special needs team” and shoving anyone with a difference on that team. The power should be with the individual players (and their parents).

  2. by Seven Snippets: February 8, 2013

    On February 8, 2013 at 6:34 am

    [...] I was pleasantly surprised to hear that we are pretty much on the same page this time – go check out her piece on [...]