Rest Assured, Athletes with Disabilities Don’t Take Away from School Sports

Some people believe including athletes with special needs will hurt school sports.

Some people believe including athletes with special needs will hurt school sports.

by Elizabeth R. Schiltz -

Ruling that says schools should give disabled students a chance at athletics isn’t an example of political correctness run amok. Here’s why.

The biggest hit under our Christmas tree this year was the letter jacket we bought my son, a junior at Minnetonka High School. The leather sleeves are still a bit stiff, but they’re rapidly acquiring that supple comfort that comes from constant wear. The right sleeve carries two patches for his sports — soccer and hockey.

When I ordered the jacket, I carefully explained that my son plays adapted soccer and adapted floor hockey with the Lakers — a joint team of athletes with disabilities from the Minnetonka and Wayzata school districts. I don’t know what I thought those patches would look like — maybe emblazoned with a red “A” for adapted? But the clerk assured me that he got the same patches as all Minnetonka athletes.

My son has Down syndrome, is on the autism spectrum, and has verbal apraxia that makes speech difficult. But though he is my third child to attend Minnetonka High, he’s the first to earn an athletic letter.

So I was disturbed to read the slew of negative “reader comments” to the news article that exploded on the Web recently, announcing, as the Star Tribune headline put it, “Disabled students win the right to play” (Jan. 26).

People complained that this is an example of political correctness run amok, and that it will destroy athletic programs, as school districts go broke because of parents demanding separate football teams for the one child in the school district who uses a wheelchair and the other child with Down syndrome.

In this time of budget constraints, let me offer a few words of reassurance:

First, this is not a new legal obligation. Schools have been required to provide kids with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports, for decades — under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act enacted in 1975. All that is new is a guidance letter just published by the Department of Education to clarify how schools can meet these obligations.

Second, these guidelines make clear that schools have a lot of flexibility in figuring out how to satisfy these requirements. Competitive sport programs can retain skill or ability standards for participation, but they must make easy changes that would let a student with a disability satisfy those standards, such as giving a hearing-impaired student a visual cue to signal the start of a race in a track meet. No school has to make any accommodation that alters an essential aspect of the sport, or gives the student with a disability an unfair advantage over other students.

Read more at Disabled won’t harm sports.

[Via The Star Tribune]

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