The Department of Education wants to make sure schools across the country let disabled students "get in the game." Schools are being told that disabled students deserve a chance to participate in sports, or comparable activities.
Some examples the department suggested include a visual signal along with a pistol sound for track meets and waiving the two-hand touch at swim meets.
The laws are not new – they are federal laws which already exist under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Department of Education said they are simply clarifying and reminding districts how important inclusiveness is to special needs children like Kenny Latimer.
For Kenny Latimer, a Special Olympics athlete, taking the polar plunge is an annual tradition.
"I get to try different sports and they have sports all year round," he said.
For the 20-year-old, high school sports were an option. However, according to the Department of Education, sports are not a consistent option for all disabled students.
"There are some school districts that don't want 'those' kids on their team," Linda Latimer, Kenny's mom, said.
Linda Latimer is pleased the U.S. Education Department is clarifying rules of inclusion, like giving every student a consideration in all school activities. But she said parents and teachers need to keep realistic goals in mind.
"You have the extremist special needs parents, too, that say, ‘hey I want my kid to play football and I don't care what you have to do to change the game to let him play' and that's not reasonable," Linda Latimer said.
Several school districts said nothing is going to change because they already practice the guidelines and include special needs in their sports programs in any way they can.
While many schools said they already practice this, the U.S. Department of Education said it isn't happening everywhere.
"We obviously want our athletes to continue to do Special Olympics but, if they have an opportunity to go ahead and do high school teams as well, that's really exciting," Julia Hansen with Special Olympics said.
Hansen said she's never experienced problems when partnering with metro schools.
"It's just going to take a little time to figure out basically how to implement it in," she said. "We always say our athletes are just like anyone else."
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