Section 504 and Extracurricular Activities
The short answer is yes.
“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.”Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
But implementation is not always so easy.
What IDEA says about ExtraCurricular Activities
First, IDEA does include or cover extracurricular activities. However, it is still a fairly common myth or urban legend that it does not.
IDEA: Sec. 300.107 Nonacademic services
300.107 Nonacademic services.
The State must ensure the following:
(a) Each public agency must take steps, including the provision of supplementary aids and services determined appropriate and necessary by the child’s IEP Team, to provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in the manner necessary to afford children with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in those services and activities.(b) Nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities may include counseling services, athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the public agency, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities, and employment of students, including both employment by the public agency and assistance in making outside employment available.
Several 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. Section 504 and Title 9 also cover this area. I have the letter below.
IDEA 2004 and Extracurriculars
When IDEA was amended in 2004, Congress specifically put wording in there for children with disabilities to be able to participate in extracurriculars. 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.
According to Wrightslaw: “A 2010 court ruling held that IDEA requires school districts to take steps to provide extracurricular and nonacademic activities to afford the student an equal opportunity to participate.”
However, since IDEA does not define “extracurricular and nonacademic activities” you must look to the federal regulations for the specific language.
Section 300.107(b) provides a nonexhaustive list of examples of extracurricular and nonacademic activities. Section 300.107(b) expressly includes athletics, clubs, and activities offered by groups sponsored by the school district. But the section does not otherwise limit those extracurricular and nonacademic activities eligible for inclusion in the IEP.
Section 300.117 does not limit what qualifies as an extracurricular and non-academic activity. Instead, the section further defines extracurricular and nonacademic activities to include meals and recess as well as the activities listed in section 300.107(b).
Examples of Nonacademic Services and Extracurricular Activities:
- Health services
- School newspaper and literary magazines
- Special interest groups and clubs
But he was cut from the team/band/choir!
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. Much 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?
Our kids have challenges. They may be socially awkward, outcasts, and have few friends. They are easy targets sometimes. This is the part that is difficult to prove: That your child did not make the cut based upon their disability. To prove that their selection criteria are not discriminatory, whew! That can be hard to do. But, if this is the battle that you want to fight, I would then contact a Disability Rights Attorney.
My suggestion is to be more proactive. If your child expresses interest in an activity, help them. Encourage self-advocacy skills. But find out what the criteria are. What is the practice schedule like? Does your child have the required skill set? If not, what accommodations would they need to successfully participate? Work with the person running the activity. Everyone’s chances at success increase when you work together.
Attach an IEP goal to the activity.
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 extracurriculars, it should be included.