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Extra curriculars are opportunities for ALL kids

Cheerleading, swim team, chorus, band, the school play... what these all have in common is that these activities included a participant that also happened to have a disability.  It is wonderful if teachers, coaches, and administrators want to include students of all abilities in their school's extra-curricular activities out of their desire to be inclusive of all students, but this is usually the exception, rather than the norm.  My daughter had the extraordinary opportunity to be a part of the regular junior varsity cheerleading squad for football for four years during high school.  We were blessed to experience the exception to the norm when the coach and administrator decided to create one extra cheerleader position on the team so that my daughter could participate.  It was an experience for her that is beyond words. She absolutely beamed when she would take the field and begin cheering.  Her fellow cheerleaders welcomed her and gave her cues and extra encouragement when she needed it in order to be successful. The difference in our daughter was truly tangible.  She would come home from practice and be more conversational, more interactive, and more animated.  The difference that we saw in her because of a cheer practice or a game was unbelieveable! No speech language pathologist, no social group, no "lunch buddy" could reproduce what we saw in her after a cheer practice.  This really was life changing for her.

How was this realized?  I provided a respite worker for every single practice and every single game, and if one was not available, I went instead.  As a parent of a student with a disability, I believe that it is critical to be supportive of one another.  This was a resource that I had available, and it relieved the extra stress that my daughter may have added to the coach.  My goal was to enable this opportunity to be as successful as possible, for both my daughter, and those that would come behind her, as well as the school.  This is not to say that there were not challenges.  That is the way life is.  At one point, a different administrator suggested that she no longer be a part of the regular cheer squad, and instead that a squad of special ed students be formed for her to participate in.  I will always be grateful for the coach who advocated on my daughter's behalf to remain on the squad.  It truly does take a village.  

Below is a section of federal law that relates to discrimination.  Below this summary, it goes into more detail of what the findings were on this subject.  Letter F) relates how anyone with a disability should not be limited because of their disability.  When your child wants to be a part of an extra curricular activity at school, familiarize yourself with this part of IDEA.  Attached below is also the website for the department of education.  All of this and more is available on their website.  

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the law that prohibits schools from discriminating against students with disabilities. Section 504 sets minimum standards for providing related services and aids to students with disabilities that substantially limits a major life activity. All accredited Iowa schools must comply with Section 504. Section 504 applies to elementary and secondary education, preschool and adult education, and private education.

Sec. 2. (a) Findings

Congress finds that--

(1) millions of Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities and the number of
Americans with such disabilities is increasing;

(2) individuals with disabilities constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in society;

(3) disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of
individuals to--

(A) live independently;

(B) enjoy self-determination;

(C) make choices;

(D) contribute to society;

(E) pursue meaningful careers; and

(F) enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social, cultural, and
educational mainstream of American society;

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Comment by Matt Bockert on June 30, 2014 at 11:39pm
I love that the coach stood up for your daughter so she could stay on the squad. Sometimes it pays to have a support system, or a "village" as you say. It's also worth noting that people in charge of extra curricular activities really should be able to find some way to include people with disabilities, even if it's in a different role. My brother, for example, was the manager of his high school basketball team since his cerebral palsy prevented him from playing.

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