Berman & Asbel, LLP

Children With Disabilities have the Right as well as the Need to Participate in Extracurricular Activities

We know extracurricular activities enhance a student's educational experience . They offer enhancements (health-wise) in the form of athletics, intellectually perhaps by being in a leadership position or a math or science league, and socially and emotionally by affording opportunities to meet and participate with other kids in extra curricular activities where they are sharing an interest.

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a 2013 press release about participation in athletics, "Athletics can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage...." To be denied the opportunity to participate because of a disability is disheartening, frustrating and . . . illegal.

The Law Protects Students With Disabilities

Under the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, Section 504, it is illegal to exclude a student from participating in a school program on the sole basis of his or her disability. Public schools, colleges and other educational institutions receiving federal financial aid must accommodate students with disabilities in athletics and other extracurricular programs. This may include, for example, using a visual queue to indicate a race's start so that a student with a hearing impairment can join track and field, or providing insulin administration for a child with diabetes during after-school programs.

Has a school met its obligation if it offers separate opportunities to students with disabilities? No. School districts, colleges and other educational institutions must take steps to ensure that students with disabilities are provided with the opportunity to participate with students without disabilities. If an activity is not currently available that matches the disabled students' interests then the educational institution needs to look into separate and additional opportunities.

If Your Child Doesn't Receive the Proper Consideration

If your child's school has refused to allow your disabled child the opportunity to participate in a school activity because of his or her disability, you need to seek the advice of a lawyer.

However, it's good to remember that not all exclusions are discriminatory. For example, if a program has a policy requiring a specific skill for competitive participation, then that program may exclude a student with a disability or without a disability if that child does not possess or has not mastered that skill.

Note: If, however, the criteria for participation is itself discriminatory, then the exclusion will also be considered discriminatory. You can discuss your specific situation with your lawyer who will help you decide what steps are available to you to protect your child.

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