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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11/08/2021 5:49 pm

My daughter’s middle school is having a fall festival. The festival is for the entire school. Tickets for the event are being sold at the school. The festival is sponsored by the PTA and taking place at the school. Parents are only allowed to attend as volunteers and siblings are not allowed.

My daughter is in special education, has an IEP, and an aide all day. The school is saying that they do not need to provide her supplemental aids and services since the PTA is sponsoring the festival.

She won’t be able to attend unless she has support since I work and have another special needs child I must care for during that time.

Dose the school need to provide her with her supports?

11/17/2021 9:45 pm
Reply to  Wrightslaw

Our school is having a similar issue. The principal has decided not to allow students who have failing grades to the fall festival. Is this legal?

K. T.
08/26/2020 8:40 pm

Hi – I am wondering if it’s legal for a HS to deliberately select to value one set of student’s Extracurricular activities over that of another? During this time of COVID and social distancing, our High School is placing a premium value on the experiences of student athletes over students who are not athletes. Our school is allowing groups of 15 students, plus coaches to practice together on a daily basis, yet they are banning all other extra curricular clubs and organizations from meeting in person for the entire school year.

It appears our school is demonstrating to children they will work through the challenges of COVID for some students, but not all. Is this legal?

02/10/2020 10:27 am

I am a teacher aide in Virginia running a tabletop games club after school and I have a few children with IEPs. One student has very anti-social behavior, both unwilling to talk and prone to outbursts. This coupled with attention seeking behavior is ruining the group not just for the other kids but myself. I have taken steps to make sure that he’s not excluded, but his behavior is not conducive to the shared experience. After multiple outbursts, would I be in the wrong for threatening to revoke his membership in the group? If it were any other student they’d be gone by now.

02/10/2020 1:48 pm
Reply to  Andrew

If there is documentation of this behavior, & efforts to address this, it appears that this should not be considered discrimination against a person with a disability. However, if you had not tried to get information & suggestions from educators, & the family, I would encourage you to do that.

09/27/2019 3:40 pm

Can my child be forced to attend after school activities? He was placed in chorus against his will, and is required to attend performance outside of school hours for his grade. Is this legal?

09/30/2019 2:14 pm
Reply to  Ivan

That seems very strange, but your state rules could allow this. I suggest contacting your state parent training and information project.

09/26/2019 12:12 am

Can a child with a learning disability be excluded from participating in after school clubs, for example “Art Club” due to a GPA requirement? Students are mainstreamed to all general ed class with resource support staff pushing in to the classes and it’s so difficult when a child is years behind their peers, to make the GPA requirement to participate in extracurricular. Already, these kids miss out on electives, as they have either a math or ELA intervention class. And insult to injury, they can’t even join in the fun stuff after school. This doesn’t sit right with me.

08/24/2019 10:25 am

does this include competion teams that the student is not physically able to do????

06/04/2019 8:35 pm

Hi, our 6-year-old autistic son’s District says that since they don’t offer extracurricular nonacademic activities to typical kids of this age, they are not required to provide accommodations so our son could attend such activities with typical kids in the community (e.g. gymnastics). We privately hired an aid, with whose help he has been doing great in gymnastics with typically developing peers. We’re suing the District because the DOE guidance clearly states that Districts should create “separate and different” athletic opportunities if existing ones are not appropriate.

The judge has asked us to provide court cases that support our position. Does anyone know if such cases exist and how to find them?

Any help appreciated! We have just **2** days to submit the evidence.

06/06/2019 7:41 am
Reply to  rafiki

I’m confused. I thought the school district had to provide equal access, which it sounds like they are doing (or rather no access for anyone since they don’t offer extracurricular activities). I’ll be interested to read any case law supporting your case so I can share with other parents who may be in the same situation.

06/06/2019 8:54 am
Reply to  rafiki

Maybe you should get a lawyer.

I’m not a lawyer, but I have a question: why would the school be obliged to provide something to your child that they don’t provide any other child in the district? There are NO extracurricular activities provided for children his age, so he is not being excluded from anything due to his disability. Am I missing something?

05/14/2019 12:57 pm

Does this apply to school parties? I would love my children to enjoy the Halloween party and Fun Run etc at their elementary school more, but they are too overwhelmed by loud DJ’s and crowds. It would take minor changes to make a huge difference. The school houses the most severely physically disabled students in the district but there’s no way they could attend.

05/14/2019 8:39 pm
Reply to  Jen

Could you speak with school officials about your desires to have you kids attend these parties? They are entitled to attend these parties and not be excluded. Its going to take some effort and some collaboration but it will be wort it in the end. Ask them if they can modify having the DJ’s in someway so that you kids can attend. They may not be able to do anything about the crowds but this would be a start.

04/13/2019 5:44 pm

My Son has Crohn’s disease. He had experienced some difficulty with some medication that basically made him feel like he had a hang over. I would let him sleep in and then come into school. He’s a straight A student and on the bowling team. One of the days administration let him get to the bowling alley and told the coach that he could not participate because of tardies/absences. The school wanted me to make a pre-arranged absence, like I’m suppose to know when he’s going to get sick? He basically was benched from participating. I still find this wrong.

04/16/2019 11:54 am
Reply to  VIKI

Your state parent training and information center should be able to give you suggestions on dealing with this situation.

04/09/2019 4:45 pm

My son has an IEP, he is currently being told that he cannot participate in sports due to his struggle with academics. My question is, does a student with an IEP get an exception?

04/10/2019 1:16 pm
Reply to  Tiffany

Your son can absolutely participate in sports. The courts have ruled that students with disabilities must have access to extra curricular’s as non-disabled students. Students with IEP are held to a different standard and you need to contact your school district to get what GPA is needed. In the mean time keep your son involved in outside activities to keep his confidence up and keep interacting with other non-disabled peers.

03/17/2019 5:48 pm

Can a student whose IEP specifically mentions joining extracurriculars as a goal be suspended from chosen extracurriculars as an add-on to a school suspension?

The suspension is over, the child is back at school, and we are now being told that she cannot go back to her sport because of the first violation. There are no issues of misbehavior at the sport – It is apparently just the school’s policy that an athletic suspension is also issued.

03/18/2019 4:54 pm
Reply to  Maria

Unless the school does not apply this rule to all students, it would be difficult to challenge it with your child.

03/12/2019 12:34 pm

It is clear that if the school does not note such accommodation, they can’t have it after school or during school when PTA sponsored – so I was told. The sad part is the schools know this and leave it out. My daughter has celiacs and hearing loss. After school play – no FM system provided she had to request for the 2nd play – teacher throws transmitter mic on desk during class time. Alternate food options so she can attend parties during class time or after school are still a battle. School says PTA event – not my problem. Except PTA benefits from federal funding by using the building, heat, electric etc., therefore I read they should recognize the disability and accomodate it. But school refuses to add such an accommodation. They state they do not provide legal advice to PTA. What to do?

03/07/2019 8:34 am

It sounds from this post like extracurricular activities have to be specifically written into the IEP, but that is not always possible, for example a student requiring an educational interpreter decides to go see a play his friend will be in. Is the school obligated to provide an interpreter?

03/08/2019 7:47 am
Reply to  Cherie

No. If the child were in the play or a member of the crew then maybe, but not if the child is going to be an audience member of an extracurricular activity.

03/04/2019 2:12 am

The PTOs in our elementary school district organize several after school programs at the various schools. They are independent 501c3 organizations and are stating that they have no legal obligation to fulfill the school district requirements of providing accommodations for their extracurricular activities that are actually held on school grounds. It is my understanding that the PTOs would not exist if not for the school district, therefore, holding them legally liable to accommodate. Is this erroneous?

11/01/2018 2:46 pm

We live in a school district that does not have an appropriate program for my son. At the school team’s suggestion, he now goes to a different school district that has a great program that suits his individual needs. He has transportation as a related service on his IEP. My home district provides transportation to/from the new school (about 35 minutes away) through a third party bus company. I have 2 transportation questions:
1. Do I have the right to have my son ride on a special education bus driven by my home district’s transportation employees rather than the 3rd party
2. My son’s new school has Best Buddies! The meetings are directly after school Is my home district obligated to drive him home from the meetings since they are a school sponsored activity? thank you

11/01/2018 5:15 pm
Reply to  Amy

My opinion is #1 No. #2 Yes The school and the state education agency may disagree with this. I suggest contacting your state parent training and information.

10/03/2018 2:33 pm

My child has Turners syndrome and does have a 504 in place. She is wants to participate in athletics and not just PE. In order to even try out for any sports teams you must be in athletics. I had to argue with the school to let her participate in the athletics class. She completes all tasks (running, weight lifting etc) but her running time is above what they allow for the class so they significantly dropped her grade. My daughter is a straight A student with the now exception of athletics. I feel the coaches are discriminating against her and trying to push her out of the class. When asked why her grade was an 85 I was told it is because she sometimes walks during the running portion. They know about her physical limitations and still purposely dock her grade. Is this fair?

10/03/2018 4:58 pm
Reply to  Christy

Hi Christy,

From what you have wrote it sounds to me your daughter is being discriminated against. This is not fair at all. What I would do is request a meeting with the principal and the Coaches to find out what is going on. Remind them again of your daughters disability. Remember you are her advocate and she should learn how to advocate for herself. I hope you get this sorted out and I wish you the best of luck.

09/13/2018 12:26 pm

My son was not allowed to run for student council due to his absences. But his absences were due to asthma and had doctors notes. Does this fit under ada?

09/13/2018 3:15 pm
Reply to  Jennifer

Probably not, if the school applies this rule to all students.

09/07/2018 8:07 am

My son, now a freshman in HS, has been in robotic since 6th grade. We had our first meeting of the new year last night and got our team assignments. All teams have 4 students. Except ours. We have just 2 and they are the only students with IEPs. Both are on the spectrum. This discrimination has never happened before. He’s always been on a team with 4-5 kids. Now we only have 2 to do the work. AND they are going to need a coach, not just a mentor and having a coach vs a mentor may disqualify them from major competitions. My son’s teams have been tor regional, state and world competitions.

08/14/2018 10:14 pm

Can a child on a IEP under traumatic brain injury be excluded from FFA because of his learning disabilities? They feel he isn’t able to fulfill the requirements of the classroom and the classroom has a strict application process and he didn’t make the cut. However he wants it really bad he works hard in his 4 H group and loves taking care of his animals. His dream is to be a farmer..

08/15/2018 2:04 pm
Reply to  Veronica

If he is excluded because of his disability, that would be a violation of Section 504 or the Americans with Disability Act. However, if they followed their procedures, this would be hard to prove.

08/04/2018 4:23 pm

Not sure if this can be answered here. The school my son is attending this year decided to switch their classes to nonblock classes, along with that they said all students will have an advisory class (a class geared to social emotion skills, college prep, taking the first step ,etc..) due to this SPED students are not being given the chance to be in leadership/ASB as they have advisory and their rsp class. Gen ed students have advisory and their choice of elective which one is leadership. I feel this is unfair to our sped students. I’m afraid of the backlash I may receive as a teacher in this district and at this school if I fight this.

05/23/2018 8:08 pm

I read the documents, but am not sure we fit in the parameters.

My daughter is being treated for ADHD & Anxiety; she has a secondary weight issue due to meds; she’s only 62 lbs, & it is a concern for her therapists/pediatrician.

She began softball, but all the bats provided were much too heavy. We bought her a certified, accredited softball bat that is supposed to be in the legal weight range, & we pre-approved w/a coach. We also said others may use it.

Tonight one of the other 3 coaches were there; he was rude, he spoke down to us, & he refused to allow the bat.

Is there anything I can take in that will require them to provide a bat that meets her ability requirements, or allow her to use ours, since it is accredited/certified?

05/31/2018 10:22 pm
Reply to  Kelly

I would file a complaint with the state’s special education dept. This sounds like a clear violation to me of the Dear Colleague guidance. You could also file a complaint with the US DOE Civil Rights Division.

05/17/2018 2:22 pm

I have a question. I am a site coordinator at an after school program, and in the past several years we have had growing number of children that require and get one-on-one aids, paraprofessionals, instructional assistance, extra staff, etc. during the school day, but nothing after school. These kids are dropped into our programs and are treated as regular kids, not getting any support as listed above. I know I can’t, and don’t want to exclude these kids, but I also need support from our Sped department, which has made it clear that we are not part of the school day, and no such aids need to be made available. Is the school district required to fund and provide the support for kids with special needs?

05/31/2018 10:23 pm
Reply to  Jeremy

Districts now have to provide support after school and it can be done. If they refuse to do it through each child’s IEP, then I would file a complaint with the state DOE on behalf of the children you work with. It might even be better coming from you as parents are not afforded much say generally I’m afraid.

04/14/2018 5:25 pm

Can i get him excused from being in band or chorus? He has issues with crowds and loud noises and he is very upset he has to take one or the other.

04/16/2018 1:34 pm
Reply to  Shawna

Yes you can. I would have it put in writing that he cannot do either.

04/16/2018 1:40 pm
Reply to  Shawna

Possibly. Start with a written request to the principal, & special ed director. They need to respond in writing, & give reasons, if they say no. If they say no, requesting an facilitated IEP meeting or mediation are options for you.

04/13/2018 11:00 am

My Son is a student in the State University system. He is Hearing impaired yet a double major with high GPA and a member of several clubs and been an officer on the Student Government for 3 years. He has recently ran for President of the Student Government . The interim Dean of Students campaigned for his opponent and emailed my son that he lacked “Leadership skills” due to his limited oral communication abilities/ disability. He has been extremely active in all the clubs and s/government. Needless to say he did not win the election and is very disappointed both in the loss but by the fact that Staff of the University professed his disability as the factor for the loss. We do not expect the results of the election to change but want to know if we should expose this Deans behavior .

04/03/2018 2:36 am

I have a question. I have a child with high functioning anxiety. She is in FFA and owns two lambs. They’ve become therapeutic animals and significantly helped her anxiety. The FFA says they have to go by May 1st. Can we have something written in her iep that as long as we’re paying they can stay due to her condition? If so, where do I find the documentation to back it up and justify to the teachers. Any help would be immensely appreciated. Please.

thank you so much

04/03/2018 11:17 am
Reply to  Raechel

I think your best chances are to find some key person in the district who will be sympathetic to your request. You may need to go up the chain of command.

03/30/2018 3:43 am

i thank that a school is getting funds from the feds that they need to be forced to follow the law or have there funds cutoff

03/23/2018 2:03 pm

My sons elementary school offers a club during the school day, to a select number of students. He was selected but because he is in a pull-out class ( language arts) during the club meeting time he is not allowed to the club. The school will let him go to the clubs teacher during lunch to do the clubs activities, which they have said are the only accommodations they can make for him. This is affecting my son and another student in his pull-out class, both are attending the “special” club meeting time. Do I have any rights to request better accommodations made so they may be included in the regular club?

03/25/2018 12:35 pm
Reply to  Nik


Request in writing to the principle and special education director that you would like to have a sit down meeting to discuss your concerns. At the meeting see if you can request that language arts class be taken at a different time or see if he can do language arts without being pulled out. i hope this somewhat helps you. Good luck to you and your son.

08/15/2017 11:53 pm

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?

08/17/2017 1:35 pm
Reply to  KELLI

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,

02/27/2017 8:57 am

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?

01/30/2017 12:23 pm

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?

11/29/2017 12:44 am
Reply to  Bunny

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

01/29/2017 8:48 pm

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?

02/24/2017 6:20 pm
Reply to  Layla

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.

09/13/2016 11:53 am

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.

06/16/2016 6:16 pm

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.

03/25/2018 12:47 pm
Reply to  Vicky


The school most likely has a website where you can find the extra curricular activities. There may be away to sign up online or you could maybe contact the principle to see how to register her early for some clubs. Write a letter to the principle also expressing your concerns and hopefully he will have a proper answer for you. If by chance things fall through again find some activities outside of the school to keep up her confidence and keep her interacting with other kids hers age.

05/10/2016 9:52 am

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?

08/16/2016 7:37 am
Reply to  Katherine

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

08/16/2016 9:30 am
Reply to  Wendy

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:

02/16/2016 9:18 pm

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?

11/03/2016 11:13 am
Reply to  Jean

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

01/05/2017 1:02 am
Reply to  Mark

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.

10/22/2017 7:07 pm
Reply to  Lisa

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.

10/23/2017 11:34 am
Reply to  Marcus

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. 🙁

04/06/2019 3:01 am
Reply to  Lisa

I know this is an old post but my son is going through this right now. It’s very sad.

03/24/2014 4:43 pm

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?