Students with Disabilities and Extracurricular Activities
One of the most important aspects of school is non-academic extracurricular activities. Students who participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports, chess, music, student government, yearbook clubs, and other special interest clubs, develop talent, skill, and teamwork. By participating in extracurricular activities, students have an opportunity to make friends they would not otherwise have made during the regular school day.
The importance of extracurricular activities cannot be overemphasized, particularly for students with disabilities who are mainstreamed because it provides an opportunity for them to learn new skills, improve their talents and self-esteem, and develop relationships with their peers. In addition, when students with disabilities participate in extracurricular activities, other “nondisabled” students will look past one’s “disability” and focus more on one’s talents and skills.
Therefore, it is important that parents understand that students with disabilities have the right to participate in extracurricular activities at school.
The federal law known as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that public schools provide students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities as their non-disabled peers. For those who enjoy reading regulations may refer to 34 CFR Section 104.37.
Many schools must also comply with another applicable federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability: The Americans with Disabilities Act. Like Section 504, the regulations that public entities (which include schools) must adhere to under the Americans with Disabilities Act are stringent.
Children with disabilities may also be protected by another federal law known as The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act. This is a very important law that affords children with disabilities the right to a “free and appropriate education.” A “free and appropriate education” may include gym classes, including physical and occupational therapy, as well as any extracurricular activities that may be available to the general student population.
Under these federal laws, schools must not discriminate against students on the basis of disability and may be required to implement necessary modifications or provide accommodations in order for students with disabilities to participate in extracurricular activities.
Here are a few concrete examples:
- A student with diabetes who tries out for the cheerleading team may not be excluded because she may need to give herself insulin.
- A student with autism or Asperger’s Sydrome may not be excluded from participating in Tae Kwon Do classes because he or she is non-verbal.
- A deaf or hard-of-hearing student may be provided a sign language interpreter to help facilitate communication at a student government club meeting.
- A student who is blind may be permitted to touch the chess pieces on the board or have someone verbally explain where a piece has been moved to.
- A school would be required to provide wheelchair accessible mode of transportation for a disabled student who wishes to participate at an off-site, school-sponsored music training program.
- A student with mobility issues who wants to play golf but cannot walk long distances may ride in a golf cart.
- A student who is allergic to nuts may join a baseball team and ask the school to implement a policy prohibiting all team players from bringing, eating, or spitting out sunflower seed shells, pumpkin seeds, and peanuts.
Additional examples of modifications and accommodations are provided in this wonderful article titled, “‘I Know I Can Do It’: Sports are for Disabled People Too.”
Over the years, there have been many interesting cases involving students with disabilities who were denied from participating in extracurricular activities. A summary of some of these cases may be found here and there.
The purpose of this article was to inform parents that extracurricular activities play an important role in every child’s life. Children with disabilities who participate in extracurricular activities develop skills and talents and friendships. Children with disabilities have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of disability. Moreover, schools may not deny children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities.
If your child has a disability and is interested in participating in an extracurricular activity, but has not been able to do so, your child may be a victim of disability discrimination. It is important that you advocate on behalf of your child and speak with the school to find out why your child has not been afforded an opportunity to participate in an extracurricular activity of his or her choosing. If you are unable to make headway with the school, you may wish to consult with a child advocate or a special education attorney for assistance.