On sports participation for disabled students
Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 7:00 pm
Winning is everything, a sports adage declares. Here between the national collegiate football championship game and the Super Bowl, that rule may be unspoken, but it’s evident. We lionize champions.
But a growing movement within school sports is saying that it’s not winning which is everything; participation is.
The theory is that the opportunity to compete, to learn the life lessons that sport brings, should not be open only to the fittest.
Now the U.S. Education Department is moving to put that theory into practice.
In a directive reminiscent of the Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities to women, the department is telling schools they must include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide “equal alternative options.”
The rule would require schools to make “reasonable modifications” for students who have disabilities or to create parallel athletic programs that have standing comparable to mainstream sports.
“Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court,” the Secretary of Education said.
Department officials emphasized that the intent is not to make dramatic change in sports traditions or to guarantee students with disabilities a spot on competitive teams. Instead, they said schools would not be allowed to exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates.
Translation: The basketball team doesn’t have to include the kid in a wheelchair. But a blind wrestler or a punter with Down syndrome would have to be given the chance to prove they can compete.
The directive is brand new, and no one yet knows its full impact. We can hope that it opens new possibilities to students who so far have been excluded. Published in The WCP 1.31.13