Dale’s school made it possible for him to participate in the sport by creating a rule that wrestlers always needed to be touching their opponent. “It allowed me to wrestle throughout public high school,” Dale said. “That experience of wrestling gave me confidence, it made me healthier, it was really an extraordinary experience.”
But hundreds of other students with disabilities may not have had an opportunity in school sports, a 2010 Government Accountability Office report suggested. The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights on Friday is sending school districts a 13-page guidance document that spells out the rights of students with disabilities to participate in school athletics.
Laura Kaloi, the public policy director for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said the guidance was long delayed. “The GAO issued this report and the Department of Education kind of sat on it,” Kaloi said. “I’m really happy to see finally that the Office of Civil Rights is putting out this guidance, making these rights crystal clear.”
The guidance follows 84 complaints to the Office of Civil Rights from parents of students with disabilities over the last four years.
The guidance document outlines five principles with specific examples for enforcement of the law, according to Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Education Department Office of Civil Rights. Schools can’t rely on generalizations of a student’s disabilities when crafting their sports offerings. They must consider each student and provide “reasonable modifications” to games, but not “fundamental alterations” that would significantly change the game or give students with disabilities an advantage. It requires that sports programs be safe.