Board backs team tryouts for disabled students

Officials urge school districts across Md. to OK athletics policies

December 12, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

The State Board of Education recommended yesterday that its school systems adopt a policy that would allow students with disabilities to try out for athletic teams.

"We wanted to try to do something statewide," said Maryland State Board of Education President Dunbar Brooks. "Local school districts need to look at this."

Howard, Harford, and Baltimore counties have policies that address - in some form - the access students with disabilities have to athletics teams, Brooks said. Baltimore City is working on policy guidelines, Brooks added.

Any changes in state regulations will require public feedback and changes to state law.

Public forums are expected to take place early next year, said Carol Ann Baglin, assistant state superintendent for special education.

Lauren Young, director of litigation at the Maryland Disability Law Center, said the board's actions are a good first step but that more is needed.

"It doesn't go nearly far as they need to go," she said. "It encourages what I think they should be mandating and requiring. I honestly think that school systems need guidance and to be told to do it."

Young is no stranger to this issue. She represents Tatyana McFadden, a wheelchair athlete at Howard County's Atholton High School. McFadden, a senior, successfully sued for the right to share the track with teammates and competitors in March.

Young and McFadden each spoke during yesterday's meeting before the recommendations were announced.

Young likened the plight of athletes with disabilities to the struggle that women in athletics faced before the approval of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The state needs to do "affirmative outreach," Young said. "Everybody knows this is a problem. We are asking [the state] to keep talking and to dig a little deeper."

The board also wants to amend the Code of Maryland Regulations so that school systems can form teams made up of students with disabilities when there are low levels of participation.

"There is no guarantee that they will make the team, but there is the opportunity that they will be able to try out," Brooks said.

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