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Students With Disabilities: More Information and Guidance Could Improve Opportunities in Physical Education and Athletics

GAO-10-519 Published: Jun 23, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2010.
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Research has established that physical activity and participation in athletics provides important health and social benefits for children. Certain federal laws help ensure that kindergarten-12th grade schools provide students with disabilities opportunities to participate in physical education (PE) and extracurricular athletics equal to those of their peers. However, national associations have questioned whether students with disabilities receive opportunities similar to their peers. Regarding students with disabilities, GAO was asked to examine (1) what is known about the PE opportunities that schools provide, and how do schools provide these; (2) what is known about the extracurricular athletic opportunities that schools provide, and how do schools provide these; and (3) how the Department of Education (Education) assists states and schools in these areas. GAO analyzed federal survey data; reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations; and interviewed state, district, and school officials in selected states, as well as parents and disability association officials.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education To help states and schools access existing knowledge and resources, the Secretary of Education should facilitate information sharing among states and schools on ways to provide opportunities in PE and extracurricular athletics to students with disabilities. For instance, Education could provide Web site links to resources or practices used by states, districts, schools, or organizations in PE or extracurricular athletics for students with disabilities. Such information could be posted on its Web site or discussed at conferences or Webinars.
Closed – Implemented
In August 2011, Education posted guidance and other resources on its website concerning ways to improve opportunities for children and youth to access PE and extracurricular athletics.
Department of Education To ensure that schools are aware of their responsibilities and that students with disabilities consistently have opportunities to participate in extracurricular athletics equal to those of other students, Education should clarify and communicate schools' responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act regarding the provision of extracurricular athletics. For example, Education could provide clarifying guidance to schools through its Web site or at conferences.
Closed – Implemented
The Department of Education issued new guidance on January 25, 2013 clarifying schools' obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide equal opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in extracurricular athletics.

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