April 18, 2006

Wheelchair Athlete Can Compete Alongside Nondisabled Peers, Says Judge

"A federal judge in Baltimore granted a preliminary injunction yesterday that will allow a Howard County athlete who uses a wheelchair to compete in track alongside nondisabled competitors," reports The Baltimore Sun today.

The Maryland Disability Law Center filed suit on behalf of Tatyana McFadden, 16, a sophomore at Atholton High School and winner of two medals at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece. McFadden had been denied the chance to race alongside non-wheelchair users. . .

The ruling could provide assurances of equal treatment for disabled students seeking to compete in athletics at schools across the state, said Lauren Young, director of litigation at the law center.

"We're thrilled, not only for her, but the school system got a loud and clear message that kids with disabilities get a chance to participate alongside the kids without disabilities in sports at their schools," Young said.

"The more I hear your argument, the more transparently arbitrary and capricious it becomes," U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis told the lawyers for Howard County schools. "She's not suing for blue ribbons, gold ribbons or money - she just wants to be out there when everyone else is out there."

While an injunction does not mean the case has been won, it does mean that the judge believes the case has enough merit to go forward. Attorneys for McFadden told the court that schools in Iowa, New Jersey, Minnesota and Washington have enlightened policies on this issue.

The injuction allows McFadden " to compete in track events at the same time as her teammates," explains law professor Sam Bagenstos in a Disability Law blog entry. "This order doesn't require the school to have McFadden compete against racers who are on foot -- that really would be comparing incommensurables. It requires the school to let McFadden compete at the same time as others -- and not relegate her, as the school had, to going around the track by herself.

"McFadden wasn't asking for any change in the rules of the sport, for her or anyone else," Bagenstos explains. "She was just asking for the opportunity to run her races while her teammates ran theirs. The order just said the school couldn't shut her out and segregate her. . . "

Read full story Disabled girl wins right to compete.

Posted on April 18, 2006