The New York State Board of Regents recently adopted an emergency rule that amends the Commissioner of Education’s Regulations governing participation in inclusive athletic activities, also known as “unified sports.” This highly anticipated amendment will enable students with disabilities who remain in school beyond the age of 18 to continue to participate in inclusive athletic activities, even if they’ve already participated in such activities for four or more years.

For years, New York state’s unified sports program has enabled students with disabilities to participate in sports with their nondisabled peers. Unified sports teams comprise students with and without disabilities for the purpose of creating an inclusive athletic program. The team trains together and competes against other unified sports teams.

Because “unified sports” is actually a trademarked name, the emergency rule will amend the program name to “inclusive athletic activities.” More notably, this amendment also establishes an exemption from the age and four-year limitations on participation in inclusive athletic activities. The amendment also relieves students from the requirement of undergoing a physical evaluation that includes an assessment of physical development and maturity.

Under the new rule, the exemption may apply where the superintendent or chief executive officer of the school determines that: (1) the student is a bona fide student of the high school and has not yet graduated; (2) the student is otherwise qualified to compete; and (3) the student underwent a health examination by the director of school services who determined that the student’s participation will not present safety or health concerns.

This new rule has been well received by parents and school personnel throughout the state as it will undoubtedly enable more students to participate in inclusive athletic activities.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York State, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Melville, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Uniondale and White Plains, as well as New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.