Attorney General, IHSA settle equal opportunity lawsuit

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Wednesday a settlement with the Illinois High School Association ensuring student=athletes with disabilities have equal opportunities to compete and earn points for their teams at state meets.

According to the settlement, students with disabilities can compete and earn points toward a team state championship in swimming and diving and track and field.

It resolves a 2012 lawsuit brought by Madigan, Equip for Equality and Mary Kate Callahan, a former high school student athlete at Fenwick High School in west suburban Oak Park.

“This settlement is an important step forward in our continued efforts to ensure people with disabilities have equal access and opportunity in all areas of life,” said Madigan in a statement.

“I am hopeful that this agreement will inspire more student-athletes with disabilities to join their schools’ sports program and that the IHSA will continue to add more opportunities for these students as they proceed with implementing the terms of the settlement.”

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said the agreement is about providing reasonable accommodations to students.

“It’s about the realization that kids benefit when they participate on their high school teams,” said Hickman. “They learn more about teamwork. They learn more about hard work, learn more about diversity.”

The lawsuit claimed the IHSA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and a section of the federal Rehabilitation Act. Hickman said the IHSA had, and maintains, the position the organization has always complied with the law.

“Schools don’t have to provide a place on a team for a student who has a disability. Students still have to earn that place on the team,” said Hickman.

“If a young person has a disability and makes a high school team, great. That’s what we’ve been helping young people do for many, many years by providing accommodations to young people.”

The settlement also requires the IHSA to create an annual road race event open to all Illinois high school students, which recognizes the top five finishers in each gender in both the wheelchair and open division.