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DOE Guidance on Legal Obligations for Extracurricular Activities

by Wrightslaw

U.S. Department of Education Clarifies Schools’ Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics

“Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student’s overall educational experience, said Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). “Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities.”

Extracurricular athletics which include club, intramural, or interscholastic (e.g., freshman, junior varsity, varsity) athletics at all education levels—are an important component of an overall education program.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance clarifying school districts’ existing legal obligations to provide equal access to extracurricular athletic activities to students with disabilities.

In addition to explaining those legal obligations, the guidance urges school districts to work with community organizations to increase athletic opportunities for students with disabilities, such as opportunities outside of the existing extracurricular athletic program.

This guidance provides:

  • an overview of the obligations of public elementary and secondary schools under Section 504
  • cautions against making decisions based on presumptions and stereotypes
  • details the specific Section 504 regulations that require students with disabilities to have an equal opportunity for participation in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities
  • discusses the provision of separate or different athletic opportunities

Download the Guidance Document (Jan 25 2013).

In August 2011, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that underscored that access to, and participation in, extracurricular athletic opportunities provide important health and social benefits to all students, particularly those with disabilities.

These benefits can include socialization, improved teamwork and leadership skills, and fitness. Unfortunately, the GAO found that students with disabilities are not being afforded an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics in public elementary and secondary schools.

GAO recommended that the United States Department of Education (Department) clarify and communicate schools’ responsibilities under Section 504. This guidance document provides that clarification.

Can my child’s IEP include supplementary aids and services for extracurricular activities and after-school programs? Yes.
Schools tell parents they are not required to provide assistance for these activities since they occur after school, take place off the school grounds, or do not involve academics.

IEP Pop-Up Question 9.
What about extracurricular activities  in the IEP?

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2 Comments on "DOE Guidance on Legal Obligations for Extracurricular Activities"


My son has ADHD and ODD. He has an aide in school during the day. We have requested numerous times through his PPT to have aide support in after school activities so he can successfully participate in the activities. The school says his educational needs are being met during the school day and that they do not have to address afterschool extracurricular programs as a result. They argue he can participate in the afterschool activities. Without the aide support though, his success in these programs is limited and he has been not allowed to continue in some programs. Does the school need to provide an aide? How do we get that in his IEP?