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Office of Civil Rights Releases Sports Guidelines

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WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has released guidelines clarifying schools' responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act) to provide athletic opportunities for students with disabilities.

The guidance ensures that schools look broadly and proactively to include students with disabilities in athletic programs in order to satisfy the school's civil rights obligations to provide equal educational opportunities. The policies apply to all levels of education, including interscholastic and intercollegiate athletic opportunities.

"Inclusion in athletics is how children learn from each other, build social skills and optimize their growth and development," said James Rimmer, PhD, co-chair of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition and director of the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. "The OCR guidance is a clear indication that athletics is an extremely important part of our educational system and that youth and young adults with disabilities must be afforded the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers. This should be part of a national strategy to lower obesity rates, which are disproportionately higher among youth with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers."

The guidance followed a 2010 study from the Government Accountability Office that found that students with disabilities receive fewer opportunities for physical activity and sports participation than students without disabilities. To help close the gap, the GAO called on the Department of Education to provide resources to assist states and schools in serving students with disabilities in physical activity settings.

The GAO report also called for clarification of schools' responsibilities to provide athletic opportunities for students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Inclusive Fitness Coalition called for the GAO study, working with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and George Miller (D-CA).

"OCR's guidance is a landmark moment for individuals with disabilities, as it sends a loud message to educational institutions that students with disabilities must be provided opportunities for physical activity and sports equal to those afforded to students without disabilities," said Terri Lakowski, policy chair of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition. "We applaud OCR for its leadership and action, which we hope will pave the way for students with disabilities in sports the same way that Title IX has done for women."

The IFC comprises 200 organizations representing a cross-section of the disability rights, sports, health/fitness and civil rights communities. Visit www.lakeshore.org.

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