Access to the “life of the school”

Every student with a disability (a student with an IEP or a 504 plan) has the right to access the curriculum as well as the right to access the life of the school. All students must have access to any “school sponsored” program. That includes athletics, clubs, dances, etc. If an after-school or before-school program is run by the school, if the school donates space for the program, or there is any transfer of school funds to the program, all students must have access. Renting school space to a private program at less than market rate does not relieve the program from the responsibilities.

Athletic programs must make accommodations, but not if they violate the integrity of the game (see the OCR guidance below). Music, proms, drama, academic contests, etc. all must make the appropriate accommodations. If a student has a one-to-one aide during school (paraprofessional, nurse, etc.) as specified in that student’s IEP (or accommodations in their 504), then the school must provide an aide for the extracurricular program. If a student gets school transportation due to their disability, then transportation must be provided to (and from) the school sponsored activity. 

Below are several references, emphasis is mine.

“The Guidance below says that students with disabilities have the right, under Section 504, to an equal opportunity to participate in their schools’ extracurricular activities. Ensuring that students with disabilities are given the opportunity to play alongside their peers—both with and without disabilities—is at the heart of the Guidance.”

this guidance provides an overview of the obligations of public elementary and secondary schools under Section 504 and the Department’s Section 504 regulations, cautions against making decisions based on presumptions and stereotypes, details the specific Section 504 regulations that require students with disabilities to have an equal opportunity for participation in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and discusses the provision of separate or different athletic opportunities.

A school district must provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in its existing extracurricular athletic programs. This means that a school district must not exclude students based on stereotypes and assumptions. It also means that a school district must make an individualized inquiry to determine if there are reasonable modifications, or necessary aids and services, which would allow a student with a disability the chance to take part in the activity.
(Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights)


Students with disabilities may not be excluded from participating in nonacademic services and extracurricular activities on the basis of disability. Persons with disabilities must be provided an opportunity to participate in nonacademic services that is equal to that provided to persons without disabilities. These services may include physical education and recreational athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the school, and referrals to agencies that provide assistance to persons with disabilities and employment of students. (Source: US DOE: Free Appropriate Public Education for Students With Disabilities: Requirements Under Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973)


FAPE [an appropriate education] also means that students receiving special education services have access to and make meaningful progress in the general curriculum (i.e. the same curriculum as students without disabilities) and the right to be full participants in the life of the school. Your child is not only entitled to access the academic portion of school but also to participate in extracurricular and other activities sponsored by the school. Full participation means that students with disabilities are entitled to the aids and services needed to assist them in participating in all areas of school life.
(Source: MA Disability Law Center)


Having an issue with this? Contact the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.

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