Tuesday, February 18, 2020
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IL H.S. Assn. settles disability lawsuit

A settlement announced earlier today by the Illinois High School Association and Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office will allow student-athletes with disabilities who compete in the state playoffs in two sports to contribute to their teams’ points, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The IHSA will also add a championship series for the 5K road race.

Until now, disabled students were able to participate in the two IHSA-sponsored events of swimming and track & field, but any points they earned based on how well they finished weren’t counted toward their team’s total. That means, even if a student with, say, spina bifida, won a swimming heat at the state championship meet, her remarkable race wouldn’t help her team, because she would earn zero points for her victory.

For example, when Lake Forest High School swimmer Ana Kohout finished first in two events and finished second in two others at last fall’s state championships, her team got no credit toward an overall team championship from her. Ana’s experience wasn’t the basis of Ms Madigan’s lawsuit—that came in 2012 from swimmer Mary Kate Callahan of Fenwick High School in Oak Park, who couldn’t take part in the IHSA state championships—but she said she was happy to hear about the settlement all the same.

“That’s awesome,” the Tribune quoted Ms Kohout as saying. “I’m so happy they count now, because I didn’t feel like I was contributing, and of course, that’s what I wanted: to be part of the team and to do it for my school, not just myself.”

What the IHSA has agreed to do, in the case of the sports of boys’ and girls’ swimming and boys’ and girls’ track and field, is to create separate events on paper, events that include the scores of handicapped participants. The original events will still be run, in which scores from disabled student-athletes won’t contribute to the total, but the new events will include scores from those student-athletes in the team totals.

So, this fall, when the team championships in girls’ swimming and diving are announced, the list will include one set of champions for the event, computed with scores from handicapped student-athletes, and one set of champions for the event, computed as it was a year ago, without the scores from disabled student-athletes.

“This agreement with the attorney general formalizes the direction the association has been moving in for several years, and a comparison of the original complaint to today’s settlement closely aligns with the association’s original view of the law,” IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said in a statement. “The IHSA will continue to consistently promote and broaden the opportunities for student-athletes with disabilities. We are excited not only for our past efforts, but also of those still to come.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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