Nine-year-old Evan Correll spinal cord did not develop properly so most of the time he has to use a wheelchair to get around. But that has not hampered his athletic ability. He participates in several sports and is admired by his friends for his record number of pull-ups and push-ups.
The Department of Education recently clarified its guidelines for accommodating students with disabilities like Evan in athletic programs, saying any school that receives federal funding must give students with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in school-sponsored sports.
Evan’s mother Shannon Freeman-Correll says the Department of Education’s ruling will help students like her own son realize their full potential.
“This year Evan was a part of the 4th grade championship basketball team and he was a part of the team as a manager, and he felt a great sense of pride being part of that team at that level,” Freeman-Correll says. “So I feel that it give shim self esteem. It gives him growth opportunities, and he feels empowered to do what he can do when he grows up.”
Many schools already follow the law.
Monroe County Community School Corporation Director of Special Education Kathleen Hugo says her district has been providing accommodations for years. Deaf and hard of hearing students have played on softball teams and students with impaired vision have run cross country. But she admits accommodating students is not always easy. Competitive students and parents might feel students with disabilities are holding back their team. Money is also an issue.
“We do receive funding from the state and federal government for all of our programs, including for students with disabilities, but it’s somewhat like a family,” she says. “It doesn’t follow any one child, so just like in a family we are required to provide for all students within a certain budget.”
The DOE has not offered any additional funding to go along with the requirement. And if schools do not abide by the law, the federal government typically will help them come into compliance. As a last resort, however, the government could take away the schools’ existing funding.