U.S. Education Department tells schools they must include students with disabilities

Posted at: 01/25/2013 5:46 PM
Updated at: 01/25/2013 7:00 PM
By: Ray Levato

Parents of children with disabilities are applauding a directive from Washington. It says schools should not exclude students with disabilities from athletics.
We see athletes in the Olympics and Special Olympics. But the U.S.  Department of Education wants to make sure school districts across the country are including students with disabilities when it comes to school athletic programs. News10NBC wanted to know what changes you can expect in your school district.

U.S. Secretary of education Arne Duncan says playing sports at any level, whether club sports, intramural or interscholastic can be a key part of the school experience and it can have a lasting impact on a student's life. News10NBC wanted to know how this could be done with "reasonable modifications" that his directive talks about in your school district.

A government report found athletics provide important health and social benefits to all students, particularly to those with disabilities.
 These can include socialization, improved teamwork, and leadership skills as well as fitness.

Secretary Duncan says while it's the coach's job to pick the best team, students with disabilities should not be excluded just because of what he calls generalizations, assumptions, prejudices or stereotypes.

Ann Cole is a parent of two children with autism. She's with the group, Upstate New York Families for Effective Autism Treatment or UNYFEAT. She says 62 percent of people with autism have no cognitive impairment.
Ann Cole, UNYFEAT, said, “Many individuals with autism don't have any physical handicap whatsoever, so of course they could participate. Do they need some kind of visual support to play the sports? Maybe. There may be other kinds of modifications that can be done.”

Sherry Johnson is a Churchville-Chili School Board member and speaks for the Monroe County School Boards Association. This is how she interprets reasonable modification.

Sherry Johnson, Monroe County School Boards Association, said, “If you've changed the competitive nature of the sport, or if you have to change the sport considerably, then you aren't compelled to modify that sport to allow a child to compete.”

But she adds that there are multiple opportunities for kids with disabilities to be on many teams and participate on many levels.  And Monroe County schools have received national recognition for their programs for students with disabilities.

Johnson said, “Our coaches on our teams are dedicated to trying to get all kids to participate. They believe in athletics so strongly and the value of athletics in the lives of kids.”

Cole said, “The whole point of this law is to open awareness, to say let's look at this and make sure we're giving them all the opportunity that they can have for these sports opportunities.”

Cole says kids with disabilities can learn so much from sports, especially children with autism, knowing how to lose in competition.  

The school boards association says  if schools are mandated to have a side-by-side athletic program for kids with disabilities, some might be forced to eliminate sports altogether just to keep from going broke. But she said that's not likely because parents want sports.
But the parent we spoke with said the existing school tax structure should accommodate children with disabilities  just like their peers without disabilities.