IHSA Settles Litigation of Disabled Student Access to Athletics

In June, the Illinois High School Association (“IHSA”) and the Illinois Attorney General’s office announced a settlement regarding the participation by students with disabilities in interscholastic athletics.

The settlement is the result of a lawsuit filed in 2012 by the Attorney General’s office and a swimmer at Fenwick High School (Oak Park, Illinois), who lost the use of her legs due to a neurological disease, after the swimmer was not permitted to participate in the IHSA swimming state championship.

At the time, the swimmer was permitted to compete in regular season events, but IHSA did not allow disabled athletes to compete in post-season events such as the state championship. Following a request in 2011 by Fenwick High School for a separate state final event in swimming, IHSA formed a committee to study the feasibility of separate state finals events and, in 2012, as part of the IHSA Programs for Athletes with Disabilities, IHSA began offering state final events in cross country, bowling, swimming, and track and field.

The settlement agreement expands IHSA’s efforts to provide opportunities for disabled student-athletes. Pursuant to the settlement, disabled student-athletes now will be able to compete and earn points toward a team state championship in swimming and diving and track and field.

IHSA also must establish a 5K road race, starting in 2016, that recognizes the top five finishers in each gender in the open division and wheelchair division. Additionally, IHSA will continue to seek out opportunities for increased participation in interscholastic athletes for all students with disabilities.

Under the settlement, IHSA must maintain all results and records for disabled student-athletes in the same manner as it does for all sports and activities. IHSA also must adopt a revised accommodations policy for disabled student-athletes, which will include an accommodations request form. School coaches and IHSA officials are to be trained on this new accommodations policy during their annual required rules presentations.

IHSA also must have a trained Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) coordinator to assist with requests for accommodations from schools and students with disabilities. Training in ADA compliance must be completed by IHSA administrative staff and board members.

The Attorney General’s office will monitor IHSA’s responses to requests for accommodations from students with disabilities for any sport or activity. The ADA Coordinator must annually submit a Students with Disabilities Participation Report to the Attorney General’s office.

IHSA member schools will receive information about opportunities for students with disabilities. This information can be distributed to students and staff and/or posted to the school’s or school district’s website and at the school. In addition, IHSA will add a new accommodations page to its website and post a webinar with information for schools and student athletes with disabilities about opportunities for participation in interscholastic athletics and how to request an accommodation for any sport.

Please contact Jennifer Mueller with your IHSA questions.

Sign up for our monthly newsletter for the latest school law news. Subscribe