Extracurricular Rights 101
Right to participate
According to Section 300.107 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):
Each public agency must take steps, including the provision of supplementary aids and services determined appropriate and necessary by the child’s IEP team, to provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in the manner necessary to afford children with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in those services and activities.
In other words, every child has a right to equal access to school-sponsored activities such as clubs, arts programs, and dances. Any activity hosted by the school or district falls into this category. IDEA doesn’t explicitly define extracurricular activities, but lists generalized examples, including “athletics,” “recreational activities,” and “special interest groups or clubs.” The California Education Code also contains a list of qualifying nonacademic services, including “recreational services.”
Some activities and programs that are typically considered to be extracurricular include:
grade or school-wide performances,
choir or band,
clubs for cooking, math, photography, and other subjects, and
school newspapers or yearbook committees.
In the case of competitive programs such as athletics and some choir and theater productions, participation may be determined through a try-out process, which means a student will need to perform at a certain level to join the program or team. However, a child with disabilities has a right to try out with reasonable accommodations as determined by their IEP team.
For example, if a student who is deaf wants to join the track team, it is reasonable for the coach to wave a flag rather than blow a whistle to signal to the runners that the race is starting.
It is important to note that, according to the California Department of Education, schools are prohibited from charging “pupil fees” for students to participate in school-sponsored activities, including:
any fees as a condition to register for classes or extracurricular activities,
security deposits for musical instruments, uniforms, or other equipment, and
any materials or supplies a student is required to buy to participate.
What supports does my child have a right to?
The accommodations a child requires to participate in both academic and nonacademic school activities will be determined by their IEP team — but the accommodations they need may not easily extend to every extracurricular interest. Woodsmall Law Group puts it this way: “The U.S. Supreme Court held that the offer of FAPE needs to provide just a ‘basic floor of opportunity,’ but it does not need to ‘maximize the potential’ of a student.” Therefore, it falls to the child and their parents to make the case that the extracurricular activity is an essential opportunity for them to make progress toward their individual goals. Grace Clark adds that parents should prepare concrete examples for the IEP team showing how an activity will provide their child with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), and help them meet those goals.
For example, an after-school Lego League is run by a student’s math teacher; many of the other students in the math class are members, and club activities are sometimes discussed during class. A parent could argue that their child needs to join in order to do well in math class. If the IEP team agrees, and the child needs a 1:1 aide to attend, then that accommodation can be written into the IEP.
Occasionally, these situations can become complicated. For example, an after-school enrichment class your child attends requires that the aide your child needs to participate be a school employee. However, union rules dictate that school employees are not allowed to work with families after school hours. What can you do?
According to Grace Clark, if it is a school-sponsored activity, the school or district is responsible for supplying an aide. If it is written into a child’s IEP that they require an aide to participate in this activity and receive FAPE, then they must be accommodated, even if the school has to hire outside of their typical contracting pool.
Limits on rights
What if my child’s rights are violated?
If your school district is denying your child’s right to participate in extracurricular activities, regulations under IDEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act offer protections and enforcement procedures.
IDEA allows you to:
make a Part B due process complaint in the form of a written letter to the district, which will lead to a due process hearing to resolve the conflict; and
file a compliance complaint with the California Department of Education, formally asking them to investigate the violation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows you to:
- make a discrimination complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
Is your child participating in extracurricular activities this year? How’s it going? Let us know in the comments!