Last week, the Department of Education's
Office for Civil Rights issued guidance
clarifying school districts' existing legal obligations to provide equal access
to extracurricular athletic activities to students with disabilities. In
addition to explaining those legal obligations, the guidance urges school
districts to work with community organizations to increase athletic
opportunities for students with disabilities, such as opportunities outside of
the existing extracurricular athletic program.
Students with disabilities have the
right, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to equal opportunity to
participate in their schools' extracurricular activities. A 2010 report by the
US Government Accountability Office found that many students with disabilities
are not afforded an equal opportunity to participate in athletics and therefore
may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits of athletic
"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," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The guidance letter provides
examples of the types of reasonable modifications that schools may be required
to make to existing policies, practices, or procedures for students with
intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other type of disability.
Examples of such modifications include:
The guidance also notes that the law
does not require that a student with a disability be allowed to participate in
any selective or competitive program offered by a school district, on the
condition that the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory.