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Legislative Mandates: A Historical Perspective

This is an excerpt from Strategies for Inclusion 3rd Edition eBook With Web Resource by Lauren J. Lieberman & Cathy Houston-Wilson.

Educating students with disabilities was not always required. In fact, before much attention was paid to the subject, several parent activist groups filed suit on behalf of their children with disabilities who were being denied education. Two specific landmark lawsuits filed in 1972 in the United States (Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia) set the stage for the passage of several laws that ensured the right to schooling opportunities for all students with disabilities. It was determined that excluding children with disabilities from public education violated the 5th (due process) and the 14th (equal protection under the law) constitutional amendments.


Including a student with a disability in physical education benefits everyone.
Including a student with a disability in physical education benefits everyone.


As a result of these watershed lawsuits, two legislative mandates were passed. The first law, Public Law 93-112, is known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. One component of the Rehabilitation Act is Section 504, which stipulates that no person with a disability shall be discriminated against or denied opportunity equal to that afforded to nondisabled individuals in any programs or activities that receive federal funding. This stipulation has been especially significant because all public schools receive some form of federal support; as a result, students with disabilities are guaranteed equal protection under the law. This law also stipulates that students with disabilities should be provided with physical education and opportunities in sport-related programs comparable to those available to their nondisabled peers. As a result of this law, some students with disabilities are provided with 504 plans, which identify their unique needs and provide strategies to support and assist these students (e.g., accommodations, modifications) in successfully accessing the curriculum. The other law, Public Law 94-142, is known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. It paved the way for full access to education for all students with disabilities. This law has undergone a series of reauthorizations and is currently known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004 (Public Law 108-446). All components of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act have been retained, and other mandates have been added over the years. The mandates of IDEIA are summarized here.


First, this legislation guarantees that special education is provided to qualified students. Special education is specially designed instruction that meets the unique needs of the learners with disabilities and is provided at no cost to parents. Instruction can take place in various environments such as schools, homes, and hospitals. This law also established that instruction in physical education must be provided and, if necessary, it can be adapted for students with disabilities. The law defines physical education as the development of (a) physical and motor fitness; (b) fundamental motor skills and patterns; and (c) skills in aquatics, dance, sports, and individual and group games. Physical education is the only curricular area specifically identified in the law. As a result, physical education is considered a direct service. Direct services must be provided to all students with disabilities, whereas related services are provided to students as needed to allow them to benefit from educational experiences (e.g., occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy). Although physical therapy (the development of gross motor coordination and function) and occupational therapy (the development of fine motor coordination and function) can supplement a PE program, these services cannot take the place of physical education (Silliman-French, Candler, French, & Hamilton, 2007).


The second mandate of IDEIA stipulates that special education services must be provided by qualified personnel. Although federal legislation does not define the term qualified personnel, states define it in their regulations governing physical education. New York, for example, defines it as anyone certified to teach physical education. Some states allow classroom teachers to provide adapted physical education, and others, such as California, require APE certification. Regardless of state definitions, however, anyone who provides physical education to students with disabilities should be aware of appropriate adaptations and modifications to ensure successful PE experiences (Winnick, 2017).


The third requirement of the law is that students with disabilities must be provided with individualized education plans that identify specific educational needs and determine appropriate resources for addressing those needs. Typically, an IEP team is assembled to determine an appropriate plan when the district is first notified that a student with disabilities will be attending the school. IEP teams usually include parents; general education teachers (including the GPE teacher if the student will be participating in regular physical education); special education teachers; special education providers, including adapted physical educators; a school psychologist; a school district representative; others, at the request of the parents or the school district; and, when appropriate, the child (Winnick, 2017). During IEP deliberations, participants make placement decisions, determine modifications, and formulate adaptation strategies; they also finalize goals and objectives based on the standard goals and objectives specific to each curricular area and on the results of student assessments. Chapter 4 provides more information about the IEP process.


For a student to qualify for special education services, the child must have a disability that falls into one of the 14 categories of disability identified in table 1.1.



Currently, any student between the ages of 3 and 21 who meets the criteria for one or more of the specified disabilities must be provided with a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The LRE is the environment in which the child learns best. To the extent possible, students with disabilities should be educated with their typically developing peers unless it is not beneficial to do so. Students with disabilities should be removed from the general education class only when the student needs additional one-to-one services, the placement has a negative effect on the other students in the class, the inability to perform physically is deemed significant enough to warrant alternative placements, or the student is not receiving educational benefit from general education placement (Block, 2016). In summary, students with disabilities should be separated from typically developing peers for physical education if there is a probability of harm to students with disabilities or their peers (e.g., disability is exacerbated by involvement in regular physical education, behaviors harm self or others).


The Rehabilitation Act and IDEIA affect how PE services are provided to students with disabilities. The sidebar Physical Education Requirements in IDEIA can be used to support inclusion or placement recommendations when these are being discussed with administrators or colleagues who are not familiar with the laws.


Physical Education Requirements in IDEIA

  • 34 C.F.R.300.39(b)(2). IDEIA defines physical education as the development of
    • physical and motor skills;
    • fundamental motor skills and patterns; and
    • skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports).
  • 20 U.S.C. 1401(29) Special Education. The term special education refers to specially designed instruction that meets the unique needs of a child with a disability. This includes
    • instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and
    • instruction in physical education.
  • 34 CFR 300.108 Physical Education. The state must ensure that public agencies comply with the following:
    • a. General. Physical education services (specially designed, if necessary) must be made available to every child with a disability who receives a free appropriate public education (FAPE) unless the public agency enrolls children without disabilities and does not provide physical education to children without disabilities in the same grades.
    • b. Regular physical education. Each child with a disability must be afforded the opportunity to participate in the regular physical education program available to nondisabled children unless
      1. the child is enrolled full time in a separate facility; or
      2. the child needs specially designed physical education, as prescribed in the child's IEP.
    • c. Special physical education. If specially designed physical education is prescribed in a child's IEP, the public agency responsible for the education of that child must provide the services directly or arrange for those services to be provided through other public or private programs.
    • d. Education in separate facilities. The public agency responsible for the education of a child with a disability who is enrolled in a separate facility must ensure that the child receives appropriate physical education services in compliance with this section.

See more at www.wrightslaw.com/info/pe.index.htm (Wright & Wright, 2010).


Placement Options in Physical Education


The model of providing services to students with disabilities in the typical environment rather than removing them from the general class is known as inclusion. When students with disabilities are provided with specialized instruction in physical education to meet their unique needs, they are receiving adapted physical education. Adapted physical education is a service rather than a placement. While every effort should be made to educate students with disabilities in general physical education by providing the necessary supports to ensure success, there will be instances in which the regular class placement is not in the best interest of the learner and perhaps not in the best interest of his or her peers (i.e., when a student is extremely disruptive or distracting). The law provides for a continuum of placement options for students with disabilities; these options range from a totally inclusive environment to a self-contained environment. Students can move from option to option based on their unique needs within a given curricular area.


The following is an example of a continuum of placement options in physical education. These options provide a basis for making educated decisions about the most appropriate learning environments for students with disabilities in physical education. With the exception of full inclusion with no adaptations or support, specific information regarding the placement must be included in the IEP. In the list, A is most inclusive and E is the least inclusive.


A. Inclusion Options

  • Full inclusion with no adaptations or support (no IEP needed)
  • Full inclusion with curriculum adaptations and modifications
  • Full inclusion with trained peer tutors
  • Full inclusion with paraeducators
  • Full inclusion with specialists
  • Modified physical education (small class) with able-bodied peers


B. Part-Time Self-Contained and Part-Time Integrated Placement Options

  • Split placement without additional support
  • Split placement with additional support


C. Community-Based Placement Options

  • Part-time community-based and part-time school-based placement
  • Full-time community-based placement


D. Full-Time Self-Contained Placement Options Within a Regular School District

  • Self-contained placement with no additional support
  • Reverse integration (typically developing peers attend class with peer with a disability)
  • Paraeducator one-to-one support


E. Other Placement Options

  • Day school for specific disabilities
  • Residential school for specific disabilities
  • Home schooling
  • Institution
  • Hospital


The least restrictive placement for this student is with a peer tutor who provides physical assistance.
The least restrictive placement for this student is with a peer tutor who provides physical assistance.


Regardless of the placement option chosen, teachers must understand their unique roles and responsibilities when teaching students with disabilities in their PE classes. See chapter 3 for more information on placement.

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Learn more about Strategies for Inclusion With Web Resource, Third Edition.