It’s not OK to say ‘You can’t play’

March 6, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

U.S. Education Department says public schools must make sports accessible to all

“Senioritis” is not a word in Joey Fazzone’s vocabulary. A dedicated student who’s making plans to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology next fall, Fazzone is a gifted artist who’s busy preparing a portfolio of his best paintings.

He is also a valued member of both the varsity wrestling and track and field teams at Guilderland High School. Lots to juggle, but Fazzone seems to take it all in stride. He knows what he wants and says that a busy schedule – including sports – is what helps keep him focused and successful.

“I’d rather be at practice than at home with too much time on my hands. Sports keep me in shape, and I have had the opportunity to make new friends…I have also learned that I am a pretty good athlete,” Fazzone said with the help of Mike Langevin, a BOCES educational interpreter for the deaf.

Fazzone has attended classes in Guilderland through the Capital Region BOCES’ deaf/hard of hearing program since he was a young child. Despite his deafness, Fazzone has what it takes to fully participate on the Guilderland varsity teams. More than “pretty good,” Fazzone has won numerous wrestling matches and soars through the air as one of the track and field team’s standout pole-vaulters. Throughout practice and meets, Langevin and other interpreters help make sports accessible for Fazzone by interpreting instructions from coaches, conversations with teammates and the excitement of the crowd.

Leveling the playing field

Children who have played on a recreational or sports team, along with their parents who are grateful that their running, jumping, climbing kids have positive outlets for their abundant energy, know that athletics can be positive, powerful and motivational learning opportunities. Sports teams and games are also fun-filled ways for kids to form friendships and learn just what they’re made of.

The U.S. Department of Education agrees that sports and games have many positive benefits – and wants to give all kids who are interested the opportunity to play and grow from these athletic opportunities.

In January 2013, the department instructed all public schools to include students with disabilities in their sports programs or provide equal alternative options.

Students who want to play must be able to compete with their non-disabled peers, and schools are required to make “reasonable modifications” or create parallel athletic programs that have “comparable standing as mainstream programs.”

“Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement announcing the new guidance for schools.

Federal law prohibits schools from discriminating against students with disabilities and holds back federal funds from any district that does not provide free and equal educational opportunities for all students.

Expanding on these laws, the recent directive puts schools and colleges on notice that access to interscholastic, intramural and intercollegiate athletics is also a right for all students.

This is welcome news to advocates, parents and students with and without disabilities, saying it will help level the playing field for every kid who wants to compete.

“If the athlete with disabilities can perform at the same level as his or her high school or college peers, then why not?” said Burke Adams, parent and advocate for individuals with disabilities.

Adams founded the Miracle League of the Capital Region, which provides multi-sport activities for youth with disabilities and their families. Burke’s daughter Jaime, who is multiply disabled, has participated with the league and was a member of the varsity basketball cheerleading squad at East Greenbush/Columbia High School during her teenage years.

“This gives more kids the opportunity to stay in good shape and play the sports they love,” added Fazzone.


“Forging Path to Starting Line for Younger Disabled Athletes” from the New York Times

Christine Carpenter is a dancer, a gardener and has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since September 1996. She holds a masters’ degree in elementary education from the College of Saint Rose and an undergraduate degree in journalism, and has worked for the past six years with BOCES’ Special Education division. Christine is an avid supporter of her teen children’s many sports teams and an active community volunteer and yoga instructor. She loves to spend time in her kitchen creating tasty meals with the food she and her farmer friends grow.

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