Bill protects varsity eligibility for some mentally disabled students

  • Article by: ALEJANDRA MATOS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2014 - 3:44 PM
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NAMI's executive director Sue Abderholden

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Minnesota high school students with documented mental disabilities may soon be automatically eligible to play varsity sports if they transfer to a new public school.

Legislators will hold a hearing Thursday on a bipartisan House bill that would require the Minnesota State High School League to allow students with a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan to gain automatic eligibility to play varsity sports if they transfer schools to “reduce barriers to educational access.”

The Star Tribune reported in December how some families had to hire lawyers to fight the league’s transfer policy, which forbids most transfer students from playing varsity for one year at their new schools unless the family can prove it has moved. The policy is meant to keep students from transferring to gain an athletic advantage. The families and their attorneys say that policy is unfair to students who are transferring for educational reasons but whose disabilities are invisible.

There are a few exemptions to the policy, such as automatic eligibility to students that transfer to a fine-arts program.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, said transfer students with disabilities should be automatically eligible as well.

“I am sure the high school league is not trained in that area,” Dettmer said. “I think we need to look at the people who are trained and see what’s best for the student.”

“After looking at this, the bill might help the high school league out and would save money too, when it comes to having to get lawyers involved,” he said.

Roger Aronson, the Minnesota State High School League’s lobbyist, said the league welcomes the bill and thinks it will easily pass.

“This is something we want to make work. I think it’s good to put this in a state statute,” Aronson said. “We need to flesh out the process so it’s better for parents and students.”

Sue Abderholden, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the bill is a priority for her organization because students who have to change schools for the sake of their mental health should not be penalized.

“If you can transfer for going to an art program, this is equally as important,” Abderholden said.

 

Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028 Twitter: @amatos12

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