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?

  1. My son has a 504 plan in the middle of getting Iep my question is with him having a 504 plan why did his school put him on academic probation for his grades? Can they do that at private school

  2. My daughter has an IEP for learning disabilities. She is still doing the same level of work as all the other students. She struggles and has for years. She is not able to get passing grades and has battled this for years. Therefore her school will not let her play sports. Saying she is ineligible. She wasn’t even allowed to go to a school dance. I just dont find this fair. I have told the school I dont think she has the mental capacity to keep up with the work she is doing. They are supposed to re-evaluate her. I just dont see how they can get away with saying oh well she is ineligible and cant play. Is this fair? Is there anything that can be done to help my struggling child that wants to play basketball and run track so bad?

    • Eligibility rules for sports can be difficult to deal with. But it sounds like the district is not providing her with an appropriate education. I suggest pushing for that. It might not lead to participation in sports, but it is important for her future, & is the school’s responsibility. Also there may be sports activities in the community she could join. Being a team manager or helper might be possible at the school, & should not involve eligibility. Your state parent training & information can assist you in working with the school. http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

  3. My child received an F on her mid term. The next day she seen her teacher and her work had not gone through on her Mac Book He corrected her grade to passing. Now she has to prove it was done prior to her mid term. If she has an IEP can they bench her for one grade?

  4. My 12 year joined tennis this year and he has Autism although he’s high functioning his coach called me and told me that she didn’t think it was good idea he stay in tennis because my son would complain about certain exercises. My son was super excited to join tennis and excited cause his first game was coming up and today they changed his schedule without notifying me of the change. Are they aloud to do that? Am so upset I need help as to what I should do?

    • Kudos to your son for joining the team. The coach simply needs to understand your son’s learning style and coaching style. Many parents with kids with special needs work with coaches 1-1 to “coach the coach” the best way possible to motivate, mentor and teach their children. This is extra work on your behalf but effective and needed. Work with the coach and coach’s assistant, if any–educate them. Other types of exercises may benefit your son best. Some coaches may not have the experience and expertise but many have succeeded because parents are working with them in a collaborative manner to make “it” work for their child. Usually with sports there are phone alerts, email chains, etc. Tell them to keep you in the loop and your son. He should not be excluded – he wants to play.

  5. My son has an IEP and his new school does not let him attend PE. Is there a law stating that he needs PE are that he is required to get PE.

  6. My son is an iep student and denied to play cause his gpa was under a 2.0. They stated they
    Put him on a probation period last year but I never heard of it nor did I see any paperwork on it and we are in a new year. Can they stop him from playing because of his grade point average from last year being an iep student

    • I have the same question, my daughter has been denied every year md she is now a depressed junior. She struggles win her grades , however loves to play sports, she has no self esteem , seeing all of her friends being able to participate totally depresses her. I feel so so sad for her.

  7. My son, who is a 14 year old 8th grader at a local College Preparatory Private school, was told yesterday he cannot play with his Football team due to not meeting the GPA requirements at the end of his last semester of 7th grade. He was diagnosed with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia and ADHD by an independent Psychological Academic Evaluator in 3rd grade, and he has been receiving academic accommodations at his school for these learning disabilities.

    I would like to defend his position, as it doesn’t seem fair to exclude a student with documented learning disabilities, due to his grades. Please inform if there are any laws, provisions, stipulations I could use to plead his cause with the Athletic Director of the school.

    • Here are my thoughts based on the track that my child took (now in college and playing sports). Extracurriculars motivated him to keep his GPA high to compete at the high school level and for college athletic recruitment and follow NCAA rules. He has a wide variety of issues including ADHD, dyslexia, etc. The IEP was never used to as a way for him to join or be retained on a sports team. At the high school level, there are district and regional rules about grades. Some school districts do allow much lower GPAs but most do not. My child also, starting at a young age, participated in PPTs, AT workshops, etc, to learn to self advocate and understand his needs and set the direction for his goals and keep a passion burning. Each child is different but this worked for us.

    • College Prep schools may have some flexibility since he is not at the high school level yet. Go to the coach not to “defend” but to ask for some insight on how to motivate your son to keep his grades up and maybe the coach and you and work as a team to encourage your son. Football is a tough game. Does he like it at a higher level? The bigger issue is what is going on with his grades? Does he need assistive technology to keep up with course content, a review of his IEP goals, other types of academic interventions? If he plans to attend college, the focus on the use of Assistive Technology to keep up with course content starts now. Compare what AT have at disaiblity resource centers at colleges and how does that compare to what your son is using now.

  8. Our daughter is a multi-sport athlete with learning disabilities. She is dyslexic, dysgraphic, has auditory processing disorder, and a sleep disorder. With this being her first year of organized school sports, we haven’t had issues with any of the sports, except volleyball. The coach is only 25, and has little experience. Because of our daughter’s disabilities, she has a hard time learning the defense. I have talked to the coach multiple times and tried to explain this to her, but she makes our daughter sit the bench. Our daughter is a better player than four of the starters, but the coach will not give her a chance because she has to be coached differently. What would or can you do in this situation?

    • Try talking with the head coach or another coach that may be more understanding of your daughter’s learning style. The principal or special ed director might also have some influence in this situation…

    • I have found that some coaches (with no experience working with students of multiple abilities) may not have the patience and insight. In this situation, I know of parents of athletes who have talked to the coaches and even gave the coach a summary sheet of how to best coach the athlete. Show the coach any video highlights of your daughter so she may see her at her best. Keep it simple letting her know that it is a process. Yes, talk to the school administrators on how to best approach this also. Your daughter deserves a chance. Many young newly hired coaches are not trained to work with a students in such a way and it is truly about mentoring, motivation and getting to know each players strengths and weaknesses.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

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