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Title IX redux? Education Dept. says school sports can't shut out disabled.

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“My worry is the Department of Education is signing a blank check that is coming of the bank accounts of local school districts,” says Michael Petrilli, an education expert and executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington.

There should have been public input and a cost analysis, he adds. “We’re talking about potentially billions of dollars in new spending, and these regulatory agencies aren’t supposed to have the kind of authority to just do that by fiat.”

Sports can be provided at a reasonable cost, advocates say, and a host of organizations have sprung up in the past two decades to help schools develop policies and set up citywide or regional sports adapted for disabled students.

“We don’t know yet how this will affect school districts in terms of cost issues,” says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “I would think most of our schools and administrators will be very supportive and will do everything they can to implement this in their districts.” 

In 2010, the Government Accountability Office reported on gaps in sports opportunities for disabled students, and recommended that the Education Department issue guidance to schools. Friday’s 13-page letter stemmed from that report

It gives examples primarily for elementary and secondary schools, but its principles apply to colleges as well.

One of the principles is that students should be judged individually, rather than stereotyped. For example, a coach says a student qualifies to be on a team, but then benches her during all the games because of an assumption that her learning disability means she can’t perform under time pressures. The student needs to be given the opportunity to show if she can perform well under that pressure, and be judged by the same criteria as other players, the guidance states.

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