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Athletic Association Slow To Rule On Special Education Student's Right To Compete
Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 10, 2004

SHELBYVILLE, INDIANA--A student in this small town is challenging the state high school sports association over its policy banning him and other special education students from officially competing.

Sam Gambrel is a member of the Shelbyville High School track and cross country team.

The 17-year-old works out and runs along with his teammates against other schools.

While the school keeps track of his times, they don't count them for his team.

That's because the Indiana High School Athletic Association has a policy that students who are not working toward a diploma cannot officially compete. Gambrel is given a "pass" or "fail" for his courses instead of grades. He will receive a certificate of completion rather than a diploma when he finishes school.

Gambrel filed for a waiver on June 30 of last year which would allow him to compete with his team. But the IHSAA still has not given him a waiver or a response.

IHSAA Commissioner Blake Ress recently told the Indianapolis Star, "If they can give us a little time to work this out, we haven't closed the door on them."

Ress said he has to be very careful about the language of any decision, in order to make sure that lazy students who are not passing aren't allowed to declare that they have a learning disability just so they can participate in sports.

"I'm not trying to stall this out and get this kid out of school so it will go away," he said.

Gambrel's family has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the IHSAA is discriminating against him and other special education students in violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

"My dad has called lawyers and lawyers and lawyers about the IHSAA," Sam said. "But so far, they (the IHSAA) have just ignored us."

The U.S. attorney's office told the family that the case may be the first of its kind in the nation.

Some states have changed their rules to allow students with disabilities to compete with their school mates.

Editorials in both the Indianapolis Star and the South Bend Tribune called for the IHSAA to make a decision -- in favor of Gambrel -- and to do it soon.

"Athlete challenging state's participation rules" (Indianapolis Star, May 26)
"Editorial: Give these students a chance to compete" (Indianapolis Star, May 28)
"Editorial: IHSAA needs rule on special education" (South Bend Tribune, June 10)


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