Schools must provide sports for disabled, US says

January 25, 2013 6:58:33 PM PST
The U.S. Education Department announced Friday that every public school in America will now have to include students with disabilities in their after school sports programs.

We're not talking about physical education for kids with disabilities. That already exists. This would mean allowing them to participate in after school sports. Schools would have to make reasonable modifications for them or they would have to create some kind of alternative.

Sophia O'Shea's fancy footwork gained her a spot on her school's soccer team. She also plays for a club. So we were surprised when she showed us her prosthetic leg.

"Well, this is actually the liner and inside here it's just hollow," Sophia said.

Her school, Willard Middle School in Berkeley, encourages all students, including those with disabilities, to try out for any sport.

"They just treat me like a regular kid," said Sophia. "There's really nothing different about me except for my leg and I can just deal with that."

And in some cases the schools makes the proper accommodations.

"If it were a child who is hearing impaired we may need visual cues, there might be a buzzer or a gun," Principal Robert Ithurburn said. "Where there was something else for a child that needs something, that needs to be put in place."

Willard is already doing a lot of what the U.S. Department of Education will now require all schools to do. And if a student with a disability cannot meet the standards of skill or ability of that team, the school must provide another option, like creating another team.

In November, Willard received an award from TASH, an organization promoting equality for people with disabilities.

Supporters say this will do for students with disabilities what Title IX did for women.

Juno Duenas is with Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, a San Francisco-based organization. They also have year-round activities for kids.

"Just because you have a disability doesn't mean that you can't compete," Duenas said. "It doesn't mean you can't be part of a team."

Peter Straus coaches the San Francisco Little League Baseball Challenger Division for kids with disabilities. He notes, "A lot of kids with disabilities have low muscle tone, so finding physical expression is very important for them."

But school districts that have seen tremendous cuts inside and outside the classroom worry about what it will take to comply.

The San Francisco Unified School District says it needs time to analyze whether this changes anything.

Under Title IX, many schools had to cut some of their men's teams in order to pay for the women's teams. This new directive may have a similar impact on both men's and women's sports.


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