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Ask the Attorney with John Brower, J.D.   [Back to Ask the Attorney]

Question: Our child is a special education student and recently received a failing grade on his 4-week progress report. Now we are told that our child has been declared ineligible for any athletic competition until the next marking period. Isn’t this illegal?

Answer:  Generally NO. A mix of local school policy and eligibility standards set by the state athletic association control eligibility to participate in inter-scholastic athletics. Eligibility for other co-curricular activities is controlled by local policy. In Michigan that all schools that field athletic teams belong to the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).

In terms of participation in athletic events, while local school districts can, and frequently do, set higher eligibility standards, a school cannot permit a student who does not meet the MHSAA eligibility standards participate in a game or event. If they do, the school may well face sanctions that could include being required to forfeit all games or events that the ineligible student participated in.

In general the MHSAA rules requires that the student be enrolled in school by the 4th Friday after Labor Day, not be older than 19 by September 1, not have attended more than 8 semesters of high school, has “passed” the equivalent of 20 credit hours the previous semester, and had not changed schools without a corresponding move by the child’s parent or guardian.

Local districts frequently raise the academic standards from the MHSAA by requiring that the student pass with a C or C- overall average for all classes. Some add the requirement that the student not fail any one class. Finally, some determine eligibility on a weekly or monthly basis.

Given these rules, a special education student eligible under IDEA or a student considered disabled under §504 can easily run into eligibility problems. As the MHSAA standards are equally applied to all students, and may impact game safety, it is difficult to have these requirements waived. Additionally, only the MHSAA can provide a waiver to its rules. There is a process in place to do that and it must be followed. See

The IEP Team is required to include ALL needed accommodations in the student's IEP. That includes a waiver of local eligibility rules. Including such a waiver is not common, and when it is done it recognizes that participation in athletics (or other extra-curricular activities that have eligibility requirements) is needed for the disabled student to receive an appropriate education. Such an accommodation could be to promote the student’s social skills development or in recognition of the benefit the student may derive from participating in the non-academic aspects of education. On the other hand, if the IEP or §504 Plan is silent as to participation, the school district will argue that the special education or §504 student is subject to the same requirements as the general student population.

Hope you find these generalized comments helpful.

John Brower, JD
Education Law Center, PLLC
Education Law Center, PLLC · 810-227-9850 · 

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