For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.
Bill: Senate Bill (SB) 776, relating to the creation of an adaptive sports program for students with disabilities.
Bill Author: Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., Senate District 27 (Brownsville)
What does the bill do?
SB 776 would facilitate the creation of an adaptive sports program by the University Interscholastic League (UIL), providing students with disabilities greater access to team sports.
Under the terms of the bill, UIL would ensure that all students with disabilities are provided the opportunity to participate in team athletic activities. As UIL works to establish the adaptive sports program, it would incorporate, as appropriate:
- Federal guidance regarding extracurricular athletics for students with disabilities
- Guidance from nationally recognized organizations that provide or promote adaptive athletics
- Information regarding adaptive sports programs that has been successfully implemented by other states or nonprofit organizations
- Input from school districts and the Texas Education Agency
This adaptive sports program, to the greatest extent possible, would subject participating students to the same rules and requirements as students participating in other UIL programs. Adaptive sports participants would be held to the same academic, disciplinary, and safety requirements as other UIL participants. As much as possible, team practices, seasonal play, and local and statewide competitions would all meet the uniform UIL standards.
The adaptive sports program would be available to public middle school, junior high school, and high school students in the state of Texas. Under the terms of the bill, UIL would adopt rules establishing the eligibility requirements for participation and best practices for school districts to incorporate adaptive sports.
In addition to the appropriated state funds, UIL would be able to seek and accept gifts, grants, or donations from public and private sources to establish or expand an adaptive sports program.
If passed, the act would take effect on Sept. 1, 2021.
According to the Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association (CHASA), adaptive sports are competitive or recreational sports for people with disabilities. Adaptive sports often run parallel to typical sport activities. However, they allow modifications necessary for people with disabilities to participate. Many sports use a classification system that puts athletes with physical challenges on an even playing field with each other.
UIL was formed in 1910 to provide leadership and guidance to public school debate and athletic teachers. Since then, it has grown into the largest inter-school organization in the world. UIL exists to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests for middle and high school students throughout the state, and it is estimated that half of all Texas students participate in at least one UIL event prior to graduation.
Statement from the bill author, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.:
“Creating adaptive sports gives our special athletes long-lasting friendships, self-worth, and physical health. By creating these opportunities for our special Texans, we respect and honor their value and significance to our great state.”
Where is the bill in the process?
On Feb. 24, 2021, SB 776 was filed for the 87th regular session and is currently waiting to be referred to a committee.
Who supports the bill and why?
The following comments were taken from an April 23, 2019, public hearing of the House Committee on Public Education on a bill nearly identical to SB 776:
- Down by the Border: Dolores Zarate, speaking in her role as the president of Down by the Border: “In regard to sports, my daughter might as well be on Mars because there are no sports available to her. In school, my son has nine sports that are available to him. When he plays football, I can go cheer for him at 19 different games. When my daughter plays Special Olympics, I go once in the spring and once in the fall. …It’s not fair to them. I think our children have shown that they are amazing athletes through Special Olympics and I think we need to continue to provide [sports] for them, just like we do all other children, through the school districts.”
- UT Austin Disability Advocacy Student Coalition: Emeline Lakrout, speaking on behalf of the UT Austin Disability Advocate Student Coalition: “When I was a young child, I was naturally very active … by the time I was in middle school I participated in more mainstream activities through mandatory physical education classes. Notably, in eighth grade, I was hit in the face with a ball three separate times. After the third time, my gym teacher told me I should sit out because, clearly, sports were not for me and I was not for sports. Subconsciously, I began to dislike physical activity. If UIL had had a sports program for students with disabilities, it’s clear the coach could have pointed me there. There would have been opportunities, specifically for my case, for the blind. Students with disabilities can absolutely play sports in a way that might be on par with their peers. However, without at least a semi-mainstream way to do so, through UIL, this opportunity does not exist.”
The following groups also registered their support for the legislation without providing testimony: Disability Rights Texas, Texas Parent to Parent, and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.
Who opposes the bill and why?
No opposition to the bill was registered at the 2019 public hearing.
- UIL: Jamey Harrison, speaking in his role as deputy executive director of UIL, provided the following remarks: “If it’s sanctioned by UIL, it certainly may attract students to participate. Some believe that a partnership with Special Olympics of Texas would provide more validity and credence to those particular activities… We have been in real serious conversations for the last 18 months with Special Olympics of Texas about forming a partnership where we could sanction these activities with their assistance.”
How much with the bill cost?
In 2019, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) found that a bill identical to SB 776 would not increase the state’s budget in a significant way.
Is there a House companion to the bill?
Rep. Alex Dominguez has filed House Bill 2193, an identical House companion to SB 776.
For the latest information about where SB 776 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.