Saturday, February 16, 2013

Title IX for disabled student sports?

I've had concerns with my #1's school, but some very dedicated teachers have provided him with adapted floor hockey and adapted soccer activities. For him this time is more valuable than most of his coursework.

The exercise is good -- adapted floor hockey is more work than I'd naively expected. The social activity is more important though. He's able to work and play with his peers. 

It wasn't easy for his teachers and the schools to put these programs together. They have to work around the fuzzy boundaries of "CI" and "PI", a divide that predates autism spectrum disorder. His teammates are technically "PI" (physically impaired) but most have some degree of "CI" (cognitive impairment) as well. In his case the CI is significant and the PI a bit of a stretch -- but "pure" CI opportunities are very limited.

For #2 son, who has "high functioning" autism, there are no school sport options. Whereas #1 has a relatively easy time joining adapted or mainstream sports teams, #2 would need some inventiveness. (He does quite a few sports -- but on his own terms.)

For both of my boys, and for special needs students in general, there may be some good news on sports access....

Education Dept. Clarifies Law on Disabled Students’ Access to Sports -

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights clarified legal obligations Friday for school districts in providing access to sports for students with disabilities....

... The guidance concerns Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a law that deals with the rights of disabled people who participate in activities that receive federal dollars.

A school district ‘is required to provide a qualified student with a disability an opportunity to benefit from the school district’s program equal to that of students without disabilities,’ according to the Education Department.

Advocates for disabled athletes, some of whom have pressed legal claims against state athletic associations in recent years, praised the clarification of rules and said that as a result, participation for disabled athletes could rise.

‘This is a landmark moment for students with disabilities,’ Terri Lakowski, chief executive of Active Policy Solutions, a Washington-based advocacy group, said. ‘It will do for kids with disabilities what Title IX did for women. This level of clarity has been missing for years.’

At least 12 states have passed laws in recent years requiring schools to include disabled students in sports and other extracurricular programs, and the Education Department’s guidance is considered a complement to those laws.

‘Taking them together with the state laws means more opportunities for disabled athletes,’ Lakowski said. According to the department, a district’s legal obligation to comply ‘supersedes any rule of any association, organization, club or league that would render a student ineligible to participate, or limit the eligibility of a student to participate’ based on disability...

That sounds encouraging. But ..

... No student with a disability is guaranteed a spot on an athletic team for which other students must try out, according to the Education Department. But districts must ‘afford qualified students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in extracurricular athletics in an integrated manner to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student.’ ...

That sounds like it's meaningless.

I think it's premature to call this "Title IX" for disabled sports access, even if we remember that it took a lot of lawsuits to make Title IX more than words. I'll go with "encouraging" for now, but we need to watch where this goes. It may make a difference if litigation is needed.