June 2021 —
The MLO Minute: By Nancy Potter, Esq. —
Just last month, Amy Bockerstette became the first person with Down syndrome to take part in a national college championship when she competed for Paradise Valley Community College at the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship at Plantation Bay Golf & Country Club in Ormond Beach, Florida. Amy’s success on the golf course has brought needed attention to the importance and success of inclusion of students with disabilities in athletics, sports and extracurricular activities.
Inclusive sports and fitness activities provide an opportunity for all students to learn skills together and discover more about each other’s similarities rather than differences. The move toward equity for students with disabilities started in 1973 with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which ensures that children with disabilities have equal access to education.
In 2010, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found schools did not understand that their Section 504 responsibilities included student athletics. The GAO found students with disabilities participated in athletics at consistently lower rates than those without disabilities because schools lacked guidance regarding their responsibilities.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) clarified the obligation of school districts to provide students with disabilities with an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular sporting activities under Section 504. The OCR said changes that make reasonable accommodations, such as using light along with a starter pistol so hearing-impaired runners can compete, can make a difference because they offer students with disabilities the chance to participate. Ensuring that students with disabilities are given the opportunity to play alongside their peers—both with and without disabilities—is at the heart of the OCR Guidance.
In addition to those Section 504 rights described above, the IDEA also provides that schools must ensure that each child with a disability has the supplementary aids and services determined by the child’s IEP Team to be appropriate and necessary for the child to participate in extracurricular services and activities.
At MLO, we are committed to fighting for full inclusion for students in all aspects of their education, not just those that happen in the academic classroom.