The president has come a long way since his gratuitous swipe at the Special Olympics two months into his first term. On Saturday, Reuters reports, the Obama administration put school districts on notice that they must give disabled students the chance to compete in extracurricular sports alongside their able-bodied classmates.
Seth Galanter, of the Education Department's Civil Rights Division, announced the new directive, adding:
Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student's overall educational experience. Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities.
The directive followed a critical report by the Government Accountability Office that found that disabled students were not being given the same opportunities to take part in school sports. The report recommended that the department clarify and communicate to schools their legal obligations under the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, including public education.
The Reuters piece outlines examples of reasonable modifications to current athletic programs that schools might undertake to meet their responsibilities. These include:
- providing "visual clues" alongside a starter pistol to allow hearing disabled students to compete in track events;
- waiving the "two-hand touch" finish at swim meets to allow one-armed swimmers to compete.
But what about students who can’t compete alongside their able-bodied classmates because of severely limiting physical or mental disabilities? The directive has their back as well. It dictates that schools work with community organizations to provide such students with their own athletic programs.
Sounds like a plan. So what will this initiative cost, and how will that financial burden be borne by school districts where budgets have already been stretched thin? Don’t ask. It’s not compassionate.
Don’t breathe a word either about government overreach. Michael Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, did, and the black candles have already been lit. Petrilli had the temerity to proclaim:
The problem is this was done without any deliberation in Congress and no public input and it is not clear how expansive it will be. Just how far must a school district go to be compliant?
This is just a straight-up unfunded mandate ... Americans support giving equal opportunities. We need to have some deliberation on the extent.
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