The Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Education [official website] on Friday issued guidance [text, PDF] clarifying school districts' existing legal obligations to give disabled students an equal chance to compete in extracurricular sports alongside their peers without disabilities. The US Secretary for Education Arne Duncan [official profile] acknowledged the critical role [official blog] sports play in the school experience. He went on to say that students with disabilities should not be denied the opportunity to participate, but the essential rules of the game do not have to be altered:
Federal civil rights laws require schools to provide equal opportunities, not give anyone an unfair head start. So schools don't have to change the essential rules of the game, and they don't have to do anything that would provide a student with a disability an unfair competitive advantage. But they do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to ensure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else. The guidance issued today will help schools meet this obligation and will allow increasing numbers of kids with disabilities the chance to benefit from playing sports.The directive came in response to a 2010 report [text] by the US Government Accountability Office [official website], which found that many students with disabilities were not afforded an equal opportunity to participate in athletics, and therefore may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits of athletic participation.
Education and access to it in the US has several nuanced issues. For example, earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) [advocacy websites] challenged [JURIST report] the constitutionality of a tuition tax-credit program designed to divert taxpayer money to private religious schools across the state. In November, Oklahoma voters approved [JURIST report] a ballot measure to eliminate affirmative action programs within the state. In May, JURIST Associate Editor James Craig discussed [JURIST op-ed] the history of affirmative action, arguing that recent studies and case law have left affirmative action with an uncertain future. In May, the Tennessee House of Representatives [official website] passed a bill that augments [JURIST report] the state's abstinence-only sex education curriculum to allow parents to sue school teachers or organizations that promote "gateway sexual activity."