01.25.13, 03:09 AM #1
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Students with disabilities must be given a fair shot in school sports
The US Education Department is expected to announce a directive today that says students with disabilities should be given the opportunity to play on traditional sports teams or have their own leagues.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Students with disabilities must be given a fair shot to play on a traditional sports team or have their own leagues, the U.S. Education Department says.
Disabled students who want to play for their school could join traditional teams if officials can make "reasonable modifications" to accommodate them. If those adjustments would fundamentally alter a sport or give the student an advantage, the department is directing the school to create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing to traditional 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 Friday.
The groundbreaking order is reminiscent of the Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for girls and women four decades ago and could bring sweeping changes to school budgets and locker rooms for years to come.
Activists cheered the changes.
"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 for a decade led a coalition pushing for the changes. "This is a huge victory."
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.
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 may not exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates.
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 prohibit schools that receive federal money 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.
The department suggests minor accommodations to incorporate students with disabilities onto sports teams. For instance, track and field officials could use a visual cue for a deaf runner to begin a race.
Some states already offer such programs. Maryland, for instance, passed a law in 2008 that required schools to create equal opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in physical education programs and play on traditional athletic teams. And Minnesota awards state titles for disabled student athletes in six sports.
Increasingly, those with disabilities are finding spots on their schools' teams.
"I heard about some of the other people who joined their track teams in other states. I wanted to try to do that," said Casey Followay, 15, of Wooster, Ohio, who competes on his high school track team in a racing wheelchair.
Current rules require Followay to race on his own, without competitors running alongside him. He said he hopes the Education Department guidance will change that and he can compete against runners.
"It's going to give me the chance to compete against kids at my level," he said.
Some cautioned that progress would come in fits and starts initially.
"Is it easy? No," said Brad Hedrick, director of disability services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and himself a hall-of-famer in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. "In most places, you're beginning from an inertial moment. But it is feasible and possible that a meaningful and viable programming can be created."
When Kareem Dale, now a special advisor to President Barack Obama, was in high school, all he wanted to do was wrestle. But as a student who was partially blind, that wasn't easy.
Dale's school made it possible for him to participate in the sport by creating a rule that wrestlers always needed to be touching their opponent. "It allowed me to wrestle throughout public high school," Dale said. "That experience of wrestling gave me confidence, it made me healthier, it was really an extraordinary experience."
But hundreds of other students with disabilities may not have had an opportunity in school sports, a 2010 Government Accountability Office report suggested. The U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights on Friday is sending school districts a 13-page guidance document that spells out the rights of students with disabilities to participate in school athletics.
Laura Kaloi, the public policy director for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said the guidance was long delayed. "The GAO issued this report and the Department of Education kind of sat on it," Kaloi said. "I'm really happy to see finally that the Office of Civil Rights is putting out this guidance, making these rights crystal clear."
The guidance follows 84 complaints to the Office of Civil Rights from parents of students with disabilities over the last four years.
The guidance document outlines five principles with specific examples for enforcement of the law, according to Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Education Department Office of Civil Rights. Schools can't rely on generalizations of a student's disabilities when crafting their sports offerings. They must consider each student and provide "reasonable modifications" to games, but not "fundamental alterations" that would significantly change the game or give students with disabilities an advantage. It requires that sports programs be safe.
School districts also have to provide qualified students with required aides -- during school and after school. For example, a student with diabetes who has a school aide monitor his blood sugar and insulin during the school day is entitled to that aide during extracurricular gymnastics.
The guidance highlights that the "unnecessary separation of kids with disabilities is both discriminatory and harmful," Galanter said.
Parents often run into obstacles when trying to get modifications for their children with disabilities, said Garth Tymerson, a Wisconsin professor who prepares physical education instructors for teaching special-education kids. He said the guidance "will put some fuel into the fire of people who want to get more help." Tymerson added that sports participation is particularly important for students who have disabilities because their obesity rates tend to be higher.
“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,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.
The issue is personal for some parents, including Kaloi. Her son has dyslexia and dysgraphia. Once, an evaluator explained to her son that he had difficulty processing number sequences. His eyes lit up. "Wow, is that why I can't remember the jumprope routine in physical education?" Kaloi remembers him asking. "My husband and I felt horrible. We focused on the reading, the writing and social studies, but the first thing in my son's mind was, 'Why can't I keep up the jumprope routine?' It made him feel like he couldn't do what the other kids were doing. A lightbulb went off for me as a parent."
But Kaloi said she's unsure how much the guidance will help students. "It takes a really savvy parent to put this document down on the table and say, 'Look, you're doing x, y and z and this document says you can't,'" she said. "But it shows that schools needed a reminder. … We want the same thing any parent wants: We just want them participating in art and music, we want them sitting with friends at lunch."
Last edited by voivod; 01.25.13 at 03:12 AM."Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.” -- Gen. George S. Patton
01.25.13, 05:17 AM #2
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if implemented correctly this is an excellent idea.
01.25.13, 09:45 AM #3
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I don't have a problem giving everyone a shot. I think sports in school is very important. I was having this discussion with a college professor friend of mine, and we were agreeing that we got as much out of sports as we did anything else in school.
My father and I have had the discussion about just having intramurals at schools and leaving "competitive" sport to AAU, park and rec, etc. While I get that, I think sports are often the biggest contributor to school pride. A friend of mine who is a football coach at a SoCal high school once told me if you polled the community, more people would know the name of the football coach than the principal--and he's right.
However, we can't afford enough books for schools, we can't afford enough teachers (when I did my student teaching last year I had 45 kids in one of my 7th grade English classes), and we can't afford any sports really other than basketball (though it has to do fundraising) and football (which does too, but subsidizes every other school sport other than basketball). Hell, 15 years ago I had to drive myself to games because buses were too expensive.
Now we want to create parallel sports leagues? Something tells me that despite every good intention here, we could see some schools just ending sports programs as opposed to having to pay for 4 teams per sport instead of 2.
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