The US Department of Education’s new guidelines say public schools must make “reasonable accommodations”-- those that do not fundamentally change the sport or give students an unfair advantage—to allow disabled athletes to compete in sports.
Nico Calabria (pictured above) is a varsity soccer player at Concord-Carlilse High School who has only one leg.
Before Calabria could join the team, his coaches had to make sure he could legally play high school soccer, since his metal crutches are not standard equipment. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association approved the forearm crutches for competition, as long as he agreed to wrap them in foam to prevent injuries to other players. Next
The new federal guidelines were announced after a report by the Government Accountability Office found that students with disabilities don’t have the same access to extracurricular sports in public elementary and secondary schools. The Government Accountability Office asked the U.S. Department of Education to clarify the legal responsibilities of the schools.
Last fall, a video of Nico Calabria scoring a goal for Concord-Carlisle High went viral within hours.
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The regulations do not mean sports teams must allow all disabled students to participate. Students are required to try out for the team and show they are qualified to play.
“I’m truly, truly excited,” said Anjali Forber-Pratt, an elite wheelchair racer and Paralympics champion who grew up in Natick. “I think that this is landmark in terms of civil rights for persons with disabilities. It’s a powerful statement to have the backing of the government.”
Forber-Prattduring is pictured above at the athletics events at the Beijing Paralympics.
“A school district must afford qualified students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in extracurricular athletics in an integrated manner to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student,” reported the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Next
Forber-Pratt, who graduated from Natick High School in 2002, said there were no opportunities for her, in a wheelchair, to play sports in Natick public schools. Instead, she went to a sports clinic for disabled students at the Massachusetts Hospital School.
Now, Natick High School, like other schools, is still scrutinizing the new guidelines.
The US Department of Education reported in August 2011 that, “Physical activity is 4.5 lower for disabled children and youth than their peers without diabilities.”
In the picture, Forber-Pratt receives a standing ovation as she is honored as a "Hero Among Us" during a timeout at TD Garden. Next
Weston High seniors (from left) Jack Blyzinskyj, Tommy Peacher, and Ryan Burrow celebrate with freshman Otto Plank after their first-place 200-freestyle relay finish on Jan. 24.
For Otto, who has significant cognitive delays, this was his first varsity win. Claude Valle encouraged Otto, whose condition requires a full-time tutor in school, to join the team.
“I think all kids, no matter what their situation, should have an opportunity to experience all aspects of school life,” Valle said. “It’s part of growing up. It’s part of socialization.”
Watch Otto’s first varsity win (his team is competing in lane 3):
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