DOE Guidance on Legal Obligations for Extracurricular Activities

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

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My son has an IEP for writing and reading comprehension and is going into 7th grade. He plays the trumpet and was expected to be in 2nd year Concert band. When we received his schedule, we found out that he failed the Texas STAAR test and has to take an extra math class. This math class conflicts with his band class. I’m being told there’s nothing they can do. He has no extracurricular elective now and he had his heart set on playing in the band. If the school can’t accommodate his wish to participate in band, do they have to help transfer him to a school within the district that can if I request it?

Texas law requires the school to provide accelerated instruction in this situation. But it does not have to be thru an extra math class. It could be thru his “regular” math class, after normal school hours or during the summer. I work for the TX parent training & information center. On our website, you can find the staff person who works with your area. If you have any difficulties, contact me,

My girl has been humiliated and kicked out of a band competition due to autistic behaviors of asking too many questions during a rehearsal after she messed up playing a note. Do we have any legal options? Since the questioning during high-stress is an autism trait, do we have any recourse for future incidences?

My son is going into Middle school with an IEP. He also gets bus transportation. We are in NY. I am being told that if he participates in an after-school activity he is not entitled to bus service home. This is why I have never been able to send him to an after school activity including homework help. The NYC DOE says it’s only if other NT kids who take a bus receive it then he would be entitled. However they don’t give bus service to NT kids only Metro cards. HELP?

Following this, exact same boat as my son here in Colorado

My son is 15. He is diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and NVLD. He has had issues with substance use disorder. He went through a difficult time where his substance use led to arrests. He cleaned himself up through therapy, substance use counseling and the diversion program. During this time, we removed him from school so he could focus on his sobriety. Recently, he returned to school. They are fully aware of his disabilities and he is on a 504 plan. We also shared his substance use issues.Since starting school, he has been suspended 3 times for ditching (2 days over a period of a month) and for lying about the ditch. Last week he was paraded out of the gym in full uniform and told that he was removed from the team due to his suspensions. Can they deny him playing sports?

I would like to know the outcome of this because my soon to be 17 year old has an ARD for an emotional disturbance and said a cuss word while frusturated in athletics to only be yelled by the head coach and told to go to the office and get a schedule change. The coach did not follow his ARD of BIP so he is inviolation of my son’s FAPE.

The details of how to participate in extracurriculars are kept secret. I agree. There’s no excuse since they have a website, social media, and morning announcements. An automated system sends me the morning announcements and there’s seldom any info about tryouts or anything like that. They have wheelchair basketball. There’s “special needs” prom, but “special needs” means intellectual disability only. Those activities are few and far between and aren’t appropriate for those kids with learning disabilities, dyslexia, HFA, ADHD, etc,
They schedule special ed support classes in place activity classes during the regular school day.
Special ed says they can’t provide any help with extracurricular activities outside the school day, even though they say they will in ARD meetings.

My daughter has a 504 and started middle school this year. It was so frustrating because all club and extracurricular sign ups are announced at the beginning and end of the day when my daughter(Aspergers/ADHD) has the most trouble with attention. Nothing was written on the board and no notices ever came home. She had no idea when to sign up for activities or where to go. By the time I would inquire it was always too late, as the clubs were already filled. I’ve had a meeting with the guidance counsellor to get things set up for next year, but they don’t even have a list to give me. I mentioned “equal access” and they told me to call over the summer. I was wondering if there is any other way I can make sure my daughter doesn’t miss this stuff next fall.

What about other extracurriculars like chorus/band/etc.? We just moved and met with the middle school our daughter will be transferring to. They told us she would have to take the intensive reading and math courses which are only offered during the “free” periods and therefore she would miss out on the more fun activities like band or chorus. There are only two free periods and I can’t believe it is okay for them to essentially exclude children with specific learning disabilities in math/reading by only offering their classes during those times?

Katherine, My child has this exact same issue. Did you get any where with this?

Over the summer we were able to get a state scholarship sending our daughter to a private school with a program for learning disabilities that encourages participation in extracurriculars. So, thankfully, we were able to avoid the issue. I wish I could help! Have you seen this?

“OCR affirmed that districts have an obligation to provide disabled students with an equal opportunity to participate in nonacademic/extracurricular activities, which can include providing them assistance to participate effectively, even if the extracurricular activities in question are not listed in the student’s IEP or 504 plan”

Also, Wright’s Law’s reply below:

What about if a student is in IEP and is in extra curricular activities and gets all As B’s C’s and one D+ and one F. This would make a nondisabled student ineligible. Is an IEP student still eligible, because they are in a IEP program?

I have the same question. I would love more clarification on this. Can anyone help?

I would love clarification as well. My child’s IEP was not followed last semester (his IEP case mgr checked out, then quit) so his grades dropped leaving him ineligible for sports this semester.

Lisa if your child’s IEP was not followed that is a direct violation. The school is required to follow the IEP. How did you find out that the IEP was not followed? What I would do is call for a meeting immediately and hope that the school fesses up to their wrongdoing. If they do not you can request either a due process hearing or report the complaint to the state.

Thank you. I did call a meeting but the school failed to acknowledge their wrongdoing. Their solution was to suspend all academic goals so they could get more data (we had an IEP for
only academics not behavior). I wrote a letter to our county board and hired an advocate who showed them their errors (and many direct violations of IDEA over several years). Unfortunately this process took time and my child was unable to compete in sports that semester. I have learned that the IDEA does not have a lot of ‘teeth’ in it – the schools can really mess up and affect a child’s education/athletics/social standing but there is not a lot of penalty for them in it. Even if you ‘win’ there is no real penalty for the educators who made the errors and no real recourse for the student. 🙁

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?