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Dept. of Ed. Calls for Equal Opportunities for Disabled Athletes

He wears a gold medal around his neck now, but it was a tough road to reach the accomplishment.

Fifteen-year-old Daniel Olsen has struggled with several learning disabilities throughout his life, and has found confidence in running.

"It's one of the few things I'm good at," he said.

Daniel tried joining the track team at Ball-Charter Middle School, but his parents said after problems with inclusion, both on the field and in the classroom, they pulled him out of school.

Now home schooled, Daniel has been competing with Special Olympics for years.

"Everything's hard for Daniel, so to see him have some joy and feel so good about himself, there's nothing more important to a parent," his mother, Theresa Olsen, said.

Now all students, regardless of disabilities, may have more athletic opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Education says students with disabilities must be given a fair shot to play on a traditional sports team, or have their own leagues.

School districts are being told to make "reasonable modifications" to accommodate them, and if they can't, the department is directing schools to create parallel athletic programs.

"It would make them feel less left out," Daniel said.

The directive comes as school districts across the country, including District 186, face budget cuts. District 186 is looking at cutting $110,000 next year from its athletic budget.

Southeast High School Athletic Director Chad Roseboom said separate teams may not be feasible right now if it requires a significant amount of money, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

"We would be open to that possibility if it came that way and we had interest in participation, sure," he said.

The U.S. Department of Education calls sports a "civil right" for students with disabilities. The department's directive clarifies existing legal obligations of schools to provide equal athletic opportunities, but there is no deadline for schools to comply.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 
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