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updated: 1/25/2013 11:33 AM

Suburban schools: Disabled sports directive a surprise

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  • 19-year-old Eric Dompierre, right, who has Down syndrome and is the kicker for the Ishpeming High School varsity football team, arrives on the field for the first day of practice at the Ishpeming Playgrounds in Ishpeming, Mich. Breaking new ground, the U.S. Education Department is telling schools Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, they must include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide equal alternative options. The directive, reminiscent of the Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for women, could bring sweeping changes to school budgets and locker rooms for years to come.

      19-year-old Eric Dompierre, right, who has Down syndrome and is the kicker for the Ishpeming High School varsity football team, arrives on the field for the first day of practice at the Ishpeming Playgrounds in Ishpeming, Mich. Breaking new ground, the U.S. Education Department is telling schools Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, they must include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide equal alternative options. The directive, reminiscent of the Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for women, could bring sweeping changes to school budgets and locker rooms for years to come.
    Associated Press/August 2012

 

It appears school administrators are about to be surprised with a directive that could have a sweeping impact on their locker rooms and budgets.

Local officials have yet to receive U.S. Education Department letters requiring schools to include students with disabilities in sports programs, or provide equal alternatives.

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Elgin Area School District U-46 officials were among those unaware of the new mandate as of late Thursday. Patrick Mogge, director of school and community relations, said the impact on the athletic budget is still unknown.

"We'd have to look at the fiscal impact," Mogge said. "Our folks can run those numbers once we know the full details and we'll comply with the law to its fullest extent."

St. Charles Unit District 303 spokesman Jim Blaney similarly said he was unaware of any new rules coming down the pipeline and was unable to comment.

That was also true of Joanne Panopoulos, assistant superintendent for student services in Wheaton-Warrenville District 200. She said the district supports students with disabilities if they need additional support participating in sports, but that officials haven't received any announcements.

Mary Todoric, spokeswoman for Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128, said in an email that the district will review the U.S. Education Department's new disabilities directive with its legal counsel and implement changes accordingly.

At this point, there is no deadline for schools to comply.

Stevenson High School spokesman Jim Conrey said the Illinois High School Association already has made strides providing opportunities for physical activity to students with disabilities by creating special divisions within more individualized sports such as track and field, swimming and bowling.

The Lincolnshire school, which has nearly 3,900 students enrolled, looks forward to working with the IHSA to make those outlets and others available for its students, he said.

"The larger question is how to provide more physical activity for disabled students in general, and not just a few," Conrey said. "We've taken that issue seriously at Stevenson for a long time. Our physical education teachers have worked hard to make sure all students are getting proper amounts of exercise. They're fortunate to be blessed with access to an exercise room with specialized equipment for kids in wheelchairs or who have other physical challenges."

• Daily Herald staff writers James Fuller, Tara Garcia Mathewson, Christopher Placek and Russell Lissau contributed to this report.

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