Sunday LeftoversJanuary 27, 2013
Inside Scoop on NJ’s School Choice WeekJanuary 28, 2013
Here’s the “letter to colleague” from the U.S. DOE’s Office of Civil Rights in regards to the new rules that require school districts to offer students with disabilities access to athletic teams and other extra-curricular activities. (See here for earlier coverage.)
The letter iterates that students with disabilities benefit socially and physically from participation, and that schools must make modifications to programs without giving an unfair advantage to the kids with special needs.
That can be a fine line. From the letter:
Of course, simply because a student is a “qualified” student with a disability does not mean that the student must be allowed to participate in any selective or competitive program offered by a school district; school districts may require a level of skill or ability of a student in order for that student to participate in a selective or competitive program or activity, so long as the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory.
The letter gives a number of examples: a deaf track runner who requires a visual signal as a start time; a one-handed swimmer who can’t touch the edge of the pool with both hands; a student with learning disabilities who is barred from a team because the coach, feeling knowledgeable about this particular disability, has generalized that all similar students are inappropriate team members.
Here’s the part of the letter that got Michael Petrilli so bent out of shape: according to the OCR, schools are required to offer comparable athletic activities to kids who, by nature of their particular disability, don’t qualify for mainstream athletic teams.
In those circumstances, a school district should offer students with disabilities opportunities for athletic activities that are separate or different from those offered to students without disabilities. These athletic opportunities provided by school districts should be supported equally, as with a school district’s other athletic activities. School districts must be flexible as they develop programs that consider the unmet interests of students with disabilities. For example, an ever-increasing number of school districts across the country are creating disability-specific teams for sports such as wheelchair tennis or wheelchair basketball. When the number of students with disabilities at an individual school is insufficient to field a team, school districts can also: (1) develop district-wide or regional teams for students with disabilities as opposed to a school-based team in order to provide competitive experiences; (2) mix male and female students with disabilities on teams together; or (3) offer “allied” or “unified” sports teams on which students with disabilities participate with students without disabilities.
Not unreasonable, right? I guess that depends upon who’s creating these new sports teams or training aides to shadow athletically talented kids who happen to be disabled. Still lots of unanswered questions: can a district outsource this new responsibility to Special Olympics or another third party? Can school use volunteers as coaches if the school also uses volunteers as coaches for typical kids? How Title IX-ish is this? If a school offers a Model UN program to its typical kids, must it create a Model UN program for kids with disabilities? Does budgeting also have to be equal?