U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), George Miller (D-Calif.) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) released the following statements today in response to the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights guidance to encourage school districts to increase opportunities for students with disabilities in physical education and athletic extracurricular activities.
A 2010 GAO report, requested by Representatives Miller, Van Hollen, and McCarthy and Senator Harkin, found that schools provide students with and without disabilities opportunities to participate in physical education classes similar to their peers, but face challenges in serving students with disabilities with appropriate accommodations. GAO also discovered that students with disabilities participated in extracurricular athletics at consistently lower rates their peers without disabilities. States, districts and schools interviewed during the study sought additional information on designing policies to increase participation of students with disabilities in physical education and athletics. In 2010, Representatives Miller, Van Hollen, and McCarthy and Senator Harkin requested that the Department of Education develop and release guidance to respond to this request.
"I thank the Department of Education for issuing this guidance, which clarifies the rights of students with disabilities to access extracurricular athletic programs. Through policies of inclusion and reasonable modifications when necessary, students with disabilities will have an equal opportunity to reap the benefits of athletics and join teams with their peers. I look forward to working with the Department and local school districts to remove barriers to participation and encourage greater physical activity for all students," said Rep. Van Hollen.
"I thank the department for developing this important guidance on improving opportunities for students with disabilities in athletics," said Rep. Miller. "It is an important step forward in our on-going efforts to increase the inclusiveness of all opportunities offered in schools and remove the barriers to participation in sports and activities specific to students with disabilities. I look forward to working with the Department of Education to ensure that all students have the opportunity to participate in physical education and extracurricular sports if they so desire."
"Whether it's the amazing feats you see in the Special Olympics or the daily success stories of students in towns across America, we're a better country when people with disabilities have the fullest opportunity to participate and compete. I look forward to working with the Department of Education and my colleagues in Washington to help bring this message of inclusiveness and equality to the nation," said Rep. McCarthy.
Research has shown that physical activity and participation in athletics have important health and social benefits for children. Today's guidance is an important step forward in ensuring that all students, including students with disabilities, have equal access to these positive health benefits. The guidance issued by the Department of Education identifies key principles that states, local school districts, schools and parents should consider as the framework for developing policies on including students with disabilities in extracurricular activities and athletics.