We are in the home stretch! That letter Z is so close I can feel it, can you? Welcome to Letter X day! I bet you thought I’d never find an X word. Well, I did, sort of. Yes, another kind of lame one, because I am doing X is for eXtracurricular activities and your IEP. I find that many parents have no idea that IDEA covers extracurricular activities, and you can even write them into your IEP. You can!
So grab a cup of coffee and read this post and the links I am linking to in the post, if your child wishes to participate in extracurriculars or you want them to but didn’t think they could. They can….and they should! (if they want to, of course)
“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.”
First, IDEA does include or cover extra curricular activities. However, it is still a fairly common myth or urban legend that it does not. A few parents actually contacted the Office of Civil Rights and filed OCR complaints over this issue. About three years ago, OCR came out with a memo outlining school district expectations around this issue. But as the saying goes, “not everyone got the memo.” There are still many districts out there who are uninformed. There is enough documentation on the web for you to print off and show to school personnel if they still do not agree with you. And, if need be, call your local OCR office.
This post won’t be that long. There are not too many details to consider. When IDEA was amended in 2004, Congress specifically put wording in there for children with disabilities to be able to participate in extra-curriculars. Like anything else in the IEP, the specifics are to be determined by the team. But, whatever accommodations apply to a child in school, they apply to the activities, if the accommodation is necessary for them to have successful participation.
Also, it is not a guarantee. “The guidance also notes that the law does not require that a student with a disability be allowed to participate in any selective or competitive program offered by a school district, so long as the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory.” For example, your child wants to join cheer or dance. But, she struggles with memory issues, so memorizing a routine is hard for her, harder for her than her non-disabled peers. She is not guaranteed a spot on any team. But, if she needs extra time to practice or some other type of supports to prepare for try-outs, she is to be given those. Or, perhaps she needs a modified routine. Make sense? (and quite frankly, if I see another “all Down Syndrome cheering squad” I’m going to punch my laptop) There is no reason why a child with Down Syndrome cannot join a regular cheer squad with accommodations. They can modify routines for her participation, something!
You can also get activities added in as part of the IEP if they help a child meet a goal. For example, social skills! That is a common one, but strategic thinking (chess or debate), communication or writing (newspaper, yearbook, debate) or sports to help with gross motor skills. If a child has a PCA or 1:1 during the day to be successful at school, and they need it for the extra-curriculars, it should be included.
I could go into much more detail, but the links here I have from OCR and Wrightslaw should be sufficient. Mostly I wanted to draw parents’ attention to it. Sooooo often they are told it’s academics and school only. Not true!