Extra-Curricular Activities and Students with - SEP-Jr-High

Southeast Polk Middle School
Miriam Van Heukelem
Ahlers & Cooney P.C.
Participation by Students with Disabilities
in Nonacademic Activities
 This is not a matter of individual discretion!
 Federal, state, and local law/policy provide rights and
protections to students with disabilities relating to
participation in athletics, field trips, and other extracurricular and co-curricular activities.
 Failure to follow these laws or policies can expose the
District and employees to legal liability.
Federal Law
 The Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., 34 C.F.R. pt. 300.
 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
29 U.S.C. § 794, 34 C.F.R. pt. 104.
Iowa Law
 Iowa Special Education law, Iowa Code ch.
256B, 281 Iowa Admin. Code ch. 41.
 The Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code § 216.9
(prohibits discrimination against a person
with a disability in any school program,
including extracurricular activities and
Southeast Polk CSD Board Policies
 Board Policy No. 103: “The board is committed to
the policy that no otherwise qualified person will be
excluded from educational activities on the basis
 Other Board policies that apply to participation in
athletics, field trips, and other school activities (e.g.
Good Conduct rule).
Three Main Principles
Equal Opportunity
Least Restrictive Environment
Equal Opportunity/Access
 The IDEA requires that school districts take steps –
including providing supplementary aids and services in a
child’s IEP – to provide students with disabilities with an
equal opportunity for participation.
 Section 504 prohibits exclusion from an activity solely on
the basis of a student’s disability, if the student is otherwise
qualified to participate in the activity.
Are there limits to Equal Access?
 If uniform competitive standards for an activity have been
established, those standards generally do not need to be
 A student with a disability does not need to be given a
“competitive advantage” over nondisabled students.
 Districts do not need to “fundamentally alter” the nature of
an existing program.
 Activities need to be created where they do not already exist.
 A school district may not:
 Provide a qualified student with a disability the opportunity to
participate in an activity that is not equal to, or not as effective as,
that provided to nondisabled students.
 Provide separate or different activities or services to students with
disabilities without (legally) justifying the different treatment.
 Otherwise limit a qualified student with a disability in the enjoyment
of any right, privilege, advantage or opportunity enjoyed by other
nondisabled students.
34 C.F.R. § 104.4(b)(1).
Least Restrictive Environment
 Both the IDEA and Section 504 require that qualified
students with disabilities participate with nondisabled
children to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of
the child – LRE.
 Socialization opportunities for students with disabilities
participating in these activities are often considered to be
among the most valuable aspects of inclusion.
When Can Access be Denied?
 If a student cannot perform successfully with nondisabled
peers even with the use of supplementary aids and services/
reasonable accommodations.
 If the student’s presence in the setting has a negative impact
on other students – exclusion may be justified if the
student’s participation significantly interferes with the
activity or poses a significant threat to the student or others.
 A student may be suspended from participation as a
disciplinary measure, but only if all students would be
subject to a similar sanction for similar behavior.
Medical Issues
 Some students may have medical issues affecting their ability
to participate in an activity or field trip:
 Decision of whether to allow participation must be made on a
case-by-case basis.
 If the facts warrant, may ask for medical clearance.
 Generally, exclude only if you have medical information that a
serious health or safety threat exists to student or others.
Factors to consider
 When considering whether a student’s disability might create
a serious health or safety threat to the student or others,
some factors to consider include:
 The student’s history of participation in similar activities;
 Severity and likeliness of potential harm;
 Whether harm to student is more likely than harm to others in
similar situation;
 Whether there are requirements or guidelines for participation
that apply.
 “Nonacademic services and extracurricular activities” under the
IDEA include “athletics, recreational activities, special interest
groups or clubs sponsored by the public agency.” 34 C.F.R. §
300.107(b). The Section 504 definition is almost identical.
 Participation in these services is not usually considered to be part of
the legal requirement to provide an eligible student with a Free
Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the IDEA. These
activities are provided by schools for enrichment – to maximize
students’ learning opportunities.
 However, if the IEP team determines that participation is a
necessary component of providing the child with a FAPE,
the child is legally entitled to participate.
 This is a high stakes issue – a majority of courts have ruled
that under these circumstances, a school cannot place any
restrictions on the student’s participation.
 This means that even a generally-applicable, non-
discriminatory standard cannot be used to bar a child from
Suggestions for Implementation
 The IDEA assigns responsibility to the child’s IEP team to
determine appropriate supplemental aids and services:
 Be proactive – ask the student or parent about activities the
child might be interested in joining.
 Invite the coach/sponsor to an IEP team meeting to discuss:
The nature of the activity,
 Any uniform standards for participating in the activity, and
 Whether services, supports, reasonable accommodations
could be provided to enable the student to participate.
Suggestions for Implementation
 If a student will participate in an extracurricular activity, the
IEP team needs to be clear about whether participation is
necessary for the student to receive a FAPE.
 If so, this should be clear in the IEP – why, how, what goal(s)
does participation impact.
 If not, it should be made clear in the IEP or 504 plan (and a
prior written notice) that the student is being provided with an
equal opportunity to participate, along with a statement of the
supports/accommodations that will be provided.
Suggestions for Implementation
 Competitive activities should have well-defined and clearly-
communicated eligibility criteria that are uniformly applied:
 Attendance or behavior requirements,
 Coursework requirements or standards,
 Application procedures, and/or
 Standards for making the team.
 District policies should be uniformly enforced, as applicable:
 Good Conduct code,
 Disciplinary rules, and/or
 Field trip policies.

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