Feds Say School Sports Are A Civil Right, Disabled Can't Be Excluded

WASHINGTON (January 25, 2013)—The U.S. Department of Education issued a groundbreaking directive Friday that says students with disabilities must be given a fair shot to play on a traditional sports team or must have their own leagues.

The order is reminiscent of the Title IX expansion four decades ago of athletic opportunities for girls and women.

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Education Department officials emphasize the goal is to make it clear that schools cannot exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates.

Students with disabilities could join traditional teams if officials could make "reasonable modifications" to accommodate them, but if those adjustments would fundamentally alter a sport or give the student an advantage, the department is directing schools to create parallel athletic programs.

“Federal civil rights laws require schools to provide equal opportunities, not give anyone an unfair head start,” Education Secretary said in a posting on the department’s website.

“So schools don't have to change the essential rules of the game, and they don't have to do anything that would provide a student with a disability an unfair competitive advantage. But they do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to ensure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else,” he said.

“The guidance issued today will help schools meet this obligation and will allow increasing numbers of kids with disabilities the chance to benefit from playing sports,” he said.

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