Magazine article District Administration

Boosting Inclusion for Students with Disabilities: A Look at the Law When Considering These Students in Extracurricular Activities and Athletics

Magazine article District Administration

Boosting Inclusion for Students with Disabilities: A Look at the Law When Considering These Students in Extracurricular Activities and Athletics

Article excerpt

ADMINISTRATORS IN PUBLIC schools are undoubtedly familiar with their duties under federal law to serve students with disabilities in the educational program. Far fewer, however, are aware of their legal obligations to these same students in after-school athletics and extracurricular activities.

Are students with disabilities entitled to participate in athletics and other after-school activities? If so, what types of services and accommodations should school officials and coaches provide? These questions often leave administrators in a quandary. But the failure to sufficiently work through these issues leaves school districts vulnerable to costly litigation. In addition to juggling the complicated legal issues related to serving students with disabilities who participate in athletics and extracurricular programs, many administrators are taking aggressive steps to promote healthy school communities by implementing body mass index (BMI) surveillance and screening measurement programs (see main story). While these programs offer an innovative approach to encouraging good health, they raise additional issues for busy administrators. Here are some district obligations, common traps for the unwary, and practical ways to comply with the law.

Legal Obligations

Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 requires school districts to provide athletics and extracurricular activities in such a manner as is necessary to afford a student with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in such activities. Providing an equal opportunity may require school districts to provide reasonable accommodations, such as sign language interpreters or modified drills, to students who are otherwise qualified for participation.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.

IDEIA requires public schools receiving federal funding to identify eligible students with disabilities and to provide those students with special education and related services. Each student receiving services under IDEIA is entitled to a free appropriate public education, which is detailed in the student's individualized education program (IEP). The student's IEP--created by a team of school professionals, the student's parent(s), and perhaps others--includes the modifications or supports that will be provided to enable students to participate in extracurricular and nonacademic activities with other children. Generally, participation in athletics and extracurricular activities is not an essential aspect of a free appropriate public education.

In some circumstances, however, participation in athletics and extracurricular activities may be necessary for the child to benefit from the child's educational program. For instance, a student with an emotional disability may require participating in athletics to develop a positive self-image and acquire social and emotional skills. In these instances, the child's IEP may specify that the child participate in certain athletic programs and/or extracurricular activities.

Americans with Disabilities Act.

ADA prohibits public entities, including public schools, from excluding otherwise qualified students with disabilities from participating in athletics and extracurricular activities based on disability.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

FERPA requires educational institutions that receive federal funding, including public schools, to protect the confidentiality of student education records and the personally identifiable information contained in them, and to provide parents and eligible students access to these records. Thus, student IEPs, athletic records, and BMI screening records are subject to FERPA protections.

Policy Pitfalls and Solutions

Schools can and do meet these mandates every day, but these common pitfalls can be costly for the unwary.

Inflexible transfer requirements. …

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