State Goes to Bat for Disabled Athletes

     CHICAGO (CN) – The Illinois attorney general sued the Illinois High School Association, which runs interscholastic sports, claiming it discriminates against disabled students by not permitting them to score points for their school teams or participate in state meets.
     Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Fenwick High School student Mary Kate Callahan sued the Illinois High School Association in the Federal Court.
     Mary Kate, 16, attends Fenwick H.S. in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. Although she is paralyzed from the waist down, she is “a committed athlete who focuses primarily on swimming and track,” the complaint states.
     The IHSA is a nonprofit organization through which Illinois high schools organize interscholastic athletic competitions. Of the state’s 811 high schools, 793 are members.
     The state claims that “because Mary Kate’s disability prevents her from achieving times that are competitive against swimmers without disabilities, she does not earn points for her school, as IHSA has not adopted any rules regarding participation of students with disabilities at local meets.”
     “Because IHSA has not adopted qualifying standards for state championship meets for students with disabilities, Mary Kate is unable to qualify for the state championship and participate alongside her teammates, despite the fact that Mary Kate’s swimming times place her among the top adaptive high school swimmers in the state.
     “Like her teammates without disabilities, and like student athletes throughout Illinois, Mary Kate’s dream is to compete at the highest level against the best swimmers and to represent her school.”
     Fifteen states have adopted rules to allow disabled students to participate in sports with their able-bodied peers, but Illinois is not among them.
     Madigan claims that Mary Kate “has been denied the opportunity to compete as part of her team in the high school state meet, interscholastic sectional meets, and local and qualifying meets for the sports of track and field and swimming. Mary Kate is unable to qualify for the state meet due to the lack of IHSA standards for student athletes with disabilities despite the wide use of such standards in other states and in disability sports programs, including the Paralympics; her disability prevents her from meeting the qualifying standards that IHSA has set for students without disabilities. …
     “Mary Kate desires the opportunity to qualify for the state championship meets in swimming and track during the 2012-2013 sports season. She also desires an opportunity to earn points for her team in all interscholastic competitions in swimming and track during the 2012-2013 sports season. These goals will not be possible unless IHSA makes reasonable modifications to its rules, policies, and procedures. “
     The attorney general quoted Mary Kate in a press statement: “By not providing appropriate time standards for high school athletes with disabilities to qualify for state events, the IHSA is punishing disabled athletes. We work just as hard and want to represent our high schools at the highest level of competition just like all athletes. The IHSA is preventing us from doing so.”
     Madigan claims that IHSA is violating the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She seeks an order requiring IHSA to implement qualifying standards for students with disabilities to participate in state championship meets and to formulate rules for these students to score points for their high school teams in all sports.
     Callahan is represented by Alan Goldstein of Equip for Equality, who could not be reached for comment.

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