It’s springtime, and cheerleader tryouts are probably drawing near. A recent decision from the Office for Civil Rights provides school districts a step-by-step procedure for ensuring that your tryout procedures are fair to students with disabilities. The student with autism did not make the squad. But OCR concluded that she was not discriminated against.
The key was the fact that the school district held an ARD meeting to consider what accommodations the student would need in the tryout process. Due to the student’s autism and speech impairment, the ARD Committee determined that 1) they would provide the student a video of the tryout routine on the first day of the cheerleading clinic; 2) they would allow the student’s special education teacher to be with her throughout the clinic and the tryout process; 3) they would allow the parents to be present at the tryout.
The parent asked for one more accommodation. The parent wanted the school to allow “changes to the skills and benchmarks necessary for participation.” The school refused to do this.
The clinic was held, the tryouts were conducted and the accommodations that the school promised to provide were provided. But the girl did not make the squad. Her score was too low.
The parent filed a complaint with the OCR, claiming that the district discriminated against the girl on the basis of her disability. OCR issued its ruling on December 22, 2014, in favor of the district. Key Quote:
OCR found that CSISD convened a group of persons knowledgeable about the Student, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options—as is required by Section 504. The ARD committee identified and implemented modifications for the Student that it determined were necessary to accommodate her disability. The committee determined that changes to the scoring process were not necessary, and further, that such changes would constitute a fundamental alteration of the high school cheerleading program—which is a selective activity requiring a particular level and type of athletic skill.
That same analysis applies to any “selective activity” that requires a particular level and type of skill, whether it be athletics, or music, or some other extracurricular activity. The school considered the matter on an individualized basis, and provided accommodations to make sure that the girl was assessed on the basis of her ability, not her disability. But the school held fast to the scoring criteria.
Kudos to College Station ISD for how it handled this matter.
DAWG BONE: MEASURE THE STUDENT’S ABILITY—NOT THE DISABILITY.