Indiana News

Education Dept. Reminds Schools of Disabled Students' Chances for Sports

1/30/2013

It's being called the Title Nine moment for disabled students. 

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Last week, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued a directive reminding schools that they are bound by federal law to give disabled students the chance to compete in high school sports.

While it is not a mandate from the federal agency, the directive offers specific guidelines on how schools can include students with physical and mental challenges in sports teams.  The department says schools must make "reasonable modifications" for students with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate on mainstream teams as long as those modifications don't alter the way a sport is played.  It also says schools must offer other opportunities, such as wheelchair teams, when those modifications cannot be made.

Bobby Cox, Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner, says the directive was one of the topics covered during his conference call with school athletic directors last week.  Cox says it will be discussed more in depth at their annual summit in April.

Indiana high schools don't offer wheelchair-based or other specialized teams for disabled athletes right now, but Cox says the state's schools already make accomodations for those who are disabled to compete when possible.  Cox says the IHSAA just entered into a partnership with Special Olympics of Indiana, which he expects to afford more opportunities for some students, but he also expects a more firm policy to come out of the April summit.  

Cost will be a factor, as Cox says any policy governing the use of athletes with disabilities will not be cost-free, but he says this is something every state must address in order to satisfy the federal directive, which largely restated current federal policy but had gone mostly unenforced.

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