Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Issues Controversial Guidance On Rights of Disabled Students to Participate in Extracurricular Activities


On Jan. 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (‘‘OCR’’) released a Dear Colleague Letter (‘‘DCL’’) providing guidance on the obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (‘‘Section 504’’) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act related to ensuring that disabled students receive fair and equal opportunities to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

This guidance applies to recipients of federal education funds — elementary and secondary schools, as well as institutions of higher education (collectively, ‘‘schools’’) — and is expected to have wide-reaching effects. The DCL comes after a 2010 Government Accountability Office report finding that public elementary and secondary students with disabilities do not have equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular athletics and recommending that the department clarify schools’ obligations under Section 504.1 While advocates for the disabled cheered the guidance, critics have suggested that the requirements will impose a number of additional costs on schools — amounting to an unfunded mandate for ‘‘wheelchair basketball.’’

Originally published in The United States Law Week, 81 U.S.L.W. 1237, 03/05/2013.

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