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Senate President Senate President Sweeney speaks at a press conference on marriage equality.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney which would ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in team sports cleared the Senate Education Committee today.

“New Jersey is about to host the Special Olympics, a unique and wonderful opportunity that showcases that those with different abilities can lead just as complete and fulfilling lives as anyone,” said Sweeney, who entered public service after his daughter was born with Down syndrome.  “This bill would ensure that the opportunities we see in the Special Olympics are afforded to every child in New Jersey. It’s about creating equal opportunity and access so that kids can be an active part of team sports.”

The bill, S2079, would require that each school district ensure that: students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to try out for and, if selected, participate in mainstream athletic programs; ensure that reasonable modifications or aids and services necessary are provided to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate; and ensure that adapted programs or unified sports or inclusive programs for physical education and athletics are available.

School districts would work with students, families, community and advocacy organizations, athletic associations, and other interested parties to present opportunities in any of the following ways: within existing physical education class activities; within existing classroom activities that involve physical activity; as part of school intramural sports opportunities; as part of school district-sponsored club sport or athletic programs; or at the interscholastic level.

The United States Government Accountability Office issued a report in June 2010 that found that students with disabilities are not being afforded an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics in public elementary and secondary schools.