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Published in Print: June 3, 1998, as NCAA Agrees to Concessions for Disabled

NCAA Agrees to Concessions for Disabled

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In a settlement reached last week with the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Collegiate Athletic Association agreed to modify its course requirements to better accommodate students with learning disabilities.

The NCAA consented to courses for learning-disabled students that are "substantively comparable" to classes for nondisabled students, and will consider those courses designated as "remedial," "special education," or "special needs."

The organization that governs intercollegiate sports will also consider changing its rules so that students with learning disabilities who do not meet the requirements may apply for waivers to compete in athletics an additional year.

As part of its effort to raise academic standards for college athletes, the NCAA requires high school students to take 13 specified core courses if they want to compete as college freshmen. Learning-disabled students, as well as academically gifted ones, have been shut out for taking classes with unorthodox course descriptions.

No Wrongdoing Admitted

The Justice Department last fall found the NCAA out of compliance with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires private organizations to make "reasonable modifications" to give disabled people access to their services. The 1990 federal law also prohibits imposing eligibility criteria that tend to screen out individuals with disabilities. ("Justice: NCAA Biased Against Learning-Disabled Students," Nov. 5, 1997.)

The Overland Park, Kan.-based NCAA maintained that it was not required to follow the Title III provisions, and it admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. It will, however, pay a total of $35,000 to four students with learning disabilities whose complaints to the Justice Department provoked the investigation.

Wallace I. Renfro, a spokesman for the NCAA, said the Title III mandate mainly deals with access to facilities, such as wheelchair ramps, an aspect of athletics that the group does not get involved with. But "we want to be in compliance with the ADA," he said. "We have voluntarily worked with the Justice Department to do that."

Justine Maloney, the legislative chairwoman for the Learning Disabilities Association, based in Pittsburgh, said the consent decree should help give students with learning disabilities a fair chance at competing in college sports. "They've covered all the bases," she said of the parties to the settlement.

Traditionally, learning-disabled students have had problems securing NCAA eligibility, she said. "Many just sort of give up and either try another college that will give them a break or just give up on the athletics altogether."

The decree also requires the NCAA to educate its waivers' subcommittee on learning disabilities.

Vol. 17, Issue 38, Page 6

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