Special Education, School Sports, and IEPs

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Providing students with disabilities the opportunity to try out and play on mainstream school sports teams is important.

“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.” (OCR Press Release) playing tennis

DOE Guidance on Legal Obligations for Extracurricular Activities. The USDOE’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.

MN Supreme Court Refuses to Limit Extracurricular & Nonacademic Activities to those that “Educate the Child”. Can my child’s IEP include supplementary aids and services for extracurricular activities and after-school programs? The answer is yes.

Athlete Sues for Right to Compete; State Passes Athletics Equity Law. As a high school freshman, Tatyana sued her school for the right to compete on the same track, at the same time, as her non-disabled teammates. Her high-profile case won hearts, and led the Maryland General Assembly to pass a unique law — the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act.

Age 19 Rules: Fair Play or Discrimination? My daughter is hearing impaired and was retained because of her disability. Although she wants to play basketball in high school, she will only be eligible in 9th and 10th grades. She is being penalized because of her disability and I don’t think it’s fair. Is this legal?

Existing Physical Activity and Recreation Opportunities (Recreation as a Related Service). If your child has a disability and is receiving school services in an IEP, your child may be eligible to receive leisure and recreation program services as a related service.

Mandate Offers Students With Disabilities Shot At School Sports. Under the Fitness and Athletic Equity Act for Students with Disabilities passed in 2008, Maryland public schools are required to provide students with disabilities the opportunity to try out and play on mainstream school sports teams.

Promoting the Participation of Children With Disabilities in Sports, Recreation, and Physical Activities. This clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics discusses the importance of physical activity, recreation, and sports participation for children with disabilities and offers practical suggestions to pediatric health care professionals for the promotion of participation.

Special Olympics: Inspiration from Eunice Kennedy Shriver. A Woman With So Much to Do. Today, millions of athletes in more than 180 countries participate in the Special Olympics Games, games that began in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s backyard.

Does an IEP make a child ineligible for sports? I was told that my child cannot participate in sports at school because he has an IEP. Isn’t this discrimination?

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Hello. My son was qualified for a 504 Plan 2 weeks before the third quarter marking period ended. He was diagnosed with ADHD. I have been pleading for help for him for 2 years and the school principal continuously brushes me off saying nothing is wrong with my son. They have been dragging their feet and do not have an organized plan in place yet. My son failed several classes during third quarter and as a result they are kicking him off of the track team due to the school rule of GPA per quarter. Had the school listened or believed me, we may have had the 504 Plan in place before he failed last quarter. Is there anything I can do? I feel this is discriminatory based on the disciplinary protection offered in the IDEA.


The IDEA protections do not apply to students under 504 plans. Your state parent training & information center may be of help. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center


My son has been in the archery program for 4 years. This is his only social outlet at school. The coach has a medical leave this school year. I along with other parents whose children have IEP’s are trying to keep the program going, but countless emails to the principal, asst principal and administrator have fallen on deaf ears. Is there anything we can do?


My freshman daughter who has an IEP is on the volleyball team. She couldn’t find her shoes and knee pads for the tournament that are white but had her practice ones which are black and the coach said she could not participate because she was out of uniform and told her not to even come. He told her to stay home! Is that even legal?!


My daughter deal with a similar situation. She was one of the star players. Sadly, she could not play as she forgot parts of her uniform. As a parent it was frustrating to deal with but my daughter learned to better organize, coordinate, etc and we helped her. I also created a sports nook in the entry area for sports gear, etc. Yes, it is confusing with remembering practice jerseys versus game jerseys and uniforms, etc. I don’t think you can connect her IEP/need to this and it would not be fair to her or her team. A lot of kids use social media to remind each other of the “uniform of day” to wear to a game as well as parents. The coach was a bit rude to tell her to stay home. Beyond that, it is a matter of her using better organizational tools, working with teammates, etc.

Concerned dad

I have a 13 year old son who lives for football. He started school late do to my deployment for the army. He also was held back in sixth grade which later resulted in an iep. Now the problem is he is two months to old to play school sports. Any info would be greatly appreciated my son is a great athlete and a great kid, him not being able to play sports is devastating


You need to determine the state group that regulates high school sports in the state, & talk with them. There may be some rule that deals with situations like yours.


There are other sports leagues such as the police activity league, town leagues, regional leagues etc. The summer is coming soon and there are many football clinics-some are overnight. Look online as many colleges offer summer football clinics. Are you looking at college football for him in the future? Talk to coaches and college advisors now on how to track him academically and athletically. During the summer, many local gyms have conditioning programs for youth athletes. There are other complimentary sports to football such as wrestling and lacrosse that many football players cross into during the off season. Most important, is he meeting academic benchmarks, IEP goals, etc.?


My son also lives for football and was so excited for this school. The school lost his iep and he had 2 Fs and I called the school and they stated that he did not have an IEP. I told them that I had signed the IEP in Dec and it should still be good. They told my son he could not play but could come to practice and watch but he could join in the exercises but no playing football. My son is still depressed over this. It was not his fault and the IEP was found and we amended it. I was told that he would not have the Fs or they would be brought up. This did happen that his grades were up but they left the two Fs were still there and he was not able to play for the rest of the season.


My son got an IEP back in Feb this year. His grades are a little better. I’m afraid he may still fail for the year. Can he still play football since he had a iep?


This will depend on your state rules. Your state parent training and information center should know. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center


I have a son who is in his junior year in high school. He just got approved for an IEP and the school must make him eligible for service. He suffers from ADHD, anxiety and insomnia. On his ten week report card he did not have a 2.0 but the judges ruling was that the school must acknowledge his absences. He couldn’t get his work from his first period teacher and the office took to long to clear his absences for missing school. He had 1.8 one his report card but even though he has a 1.8 its not his fault for being denied a IEP for three years in a row. The ruling for the judge came down 6 days after being approved for an IEP.


My child is in his second year of high school. I don’t feel the school followed his iep but that’s done. He really loves football and socially gained from it last year. With his failed grades he is allowed to be on the team but can’t play.
Can anything be done to allow him to be a eligible player?


What can be done to ensure struggling kids can participate in sports?


All children should participate in extracurricular activities irrespective of their disabilities even though they need to manage both education and sports. There are tools out there like Thapos.com which help athletes to manage their sporting life.


All children should have the same access to extracurricular activities regardless of their disabilities. They may be more limited, depending on their disability, but I think that part of growing up is being able to be part of a sports team or club. So, I am glad that schools are required to give this opportunity to everyone.