Education Department says disabled students must be given equal athletic access
Last week, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights provided detailed guidance to school districts on athletic activities for disabled students. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was designed to protect the rights of all students with disabilities, such that each is given an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. In writing this law 40 years ago, legislators looked to the 14th Amendment, which declares that states shall not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In fact, states have seen numerous legal challenges in recent years as students with disabilities seek greater access to athletic competition. Twelve states have already passed laws to guarantee these rights. Now, the Education Department provides further clarification, which is welcome news to advocates for the rights of the disabled. Friday, the New York Times interviewed Terri Lakowski, chief executive of Active Policy Solutions, who stated, “It will do for kids with disabilities what Title IX did for women.” On the other hand, these rules do not require a school district to guarantee these students a position on any team sport for which try-outs are required. The expectation is that all students will have an equal opportunity to participate, and that each can gain the same benefit appropriate for their needs.