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N.J. Educators React To Federal Decision On School Sports For The Disabled

Volleyball (credit: clipart.com)

(credit: clipart.com)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - A groundbreaking decision came today from the U.S. Department of Education.

It said that schools have to include students with disabilities in their sports programs, or at least provide equal alternatives.

Ted D’Alessio, athletic director in Millburn, has an autistic daughter and welcomed the news.

“I’ve lived it, both as a parent and as an athletic director,” he told the Star-Ledger.

He spoke of his daughter’s experience when she started playing volleyball in 2007.

“She felt accepted,” he said. “Many of these children are on the outside looking in in many activities in high school and once she was on the team it made a world of difference in her.”

Some were worried about the price tag, including Hunterdon Central High School Athletic Director Bob Rossi, who had a disabled son and wished her could have played sports.

“I can see the other side of it, too — how are we going to find the money to do that?” he told the Ledger.

The American Association of Adapted Sports Programs was elated by the news. Co-founder Tommy Storms talked about it with WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot.

“Is this similar to Title IX when schools were forced to give girls the right to play team sports?” asked Cabot.

“Well, it certainly does provide the schools with the guidelines that they’ve needed, as Title IX did. We see disability sport evolving very much the same way as women’s sports did and this is just great news out of D.C. today and we commend the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights because our schools, many of them, I think, have wanted to step up, have understood that there was a need, that needed that guidance and so we applaud them for that,” Tommy Storms.

“It will take guidance because this is going to be, I think, new territory for a lot of schools who are grappling with tight budgets. How do we make this happen?” asked Cabot.

“Well, you know, it is new territory for a lot of schools and I think the first thing that we would want to say is ‘Take a deep breath and know that there are organizations, ours in particular, that’s been doing this for 16 years,'” Storms said. “We were in Atlanta after the Paralympic games. $70 million spent in the Paralympics and in promoting the abilities of those with disabilities and it began to shift attitudes.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said schools would be required to make “reasonable modifications” for students with disabilities or create parallel athletic programs that have as comparable standing as mainstream programs.

“Well, the way that the law is written, we must provide an equitable opportunity for those that have disabilities. We know that there are students, and we’ve all seen the inspiring stories of the kicker on the football team who’s actually an amputee or the wrestler who may have a physical disability,” Storms said. “But otherwise their participation does not change the nature of the sport and these are the three tenets of that law – it cannot change the nature of the sport, it must be safe for all participants, and third, it cannot present an undue burden to the school system or the administration. What we’ve shown is that those three tenets can be met under the ‘reasonable’ standards and that we’re seeing amazing benefits in these kids.”

“Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court,” Duncan said in a statement announcing the new guidance Friday.

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