Youth, Explore Adapted Physical Education in Your IEP or 504 Plan

Overview

  • Physical Education (PE) can be adapted (changed) in four main ways to support students with disabilities.
  • Federal and state law protects your rights to be taught PE. Adapted PE can be included in your Individualized Education Program (IEP). It can also be included in a Section 504 plan.
  • Taking part in IEP and 504 meetings is important when looking at adapted physical education. It lets you share your needs, preferences, and goals. This helps create a physical education program that fits your abilities, supports your well-being, and creates a positive and inclusive environment. (Click on the links in the reference section to learn more about going to IEP and 504 meetings.)
  • Changes in WA State rules mean that more teachers will qualify to design and teach Adapted Physical Education. These rules are in effect as of May 1, 2024.
  • The Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education, from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) quoted in this article gives more information about Adaptive PE and how it fits into special education in WA State. Download or read Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

Full article

Why is physical education important? How is it helpful to me, as an individual with a disability?

Classes can teach you to care for your body and learn physical, mental, and emotional skills that include:

  • Motor skills (training to use your muscles for certain things, such as swinging a baseball bat to hit a ball, or running very hard in a race)
  • Physical fitness (keeping healthy and strong by exercising your body)
  • Social-emotional skills, teamwork, social play skills
  • Skills for athletics like team sports like soccer or basketball or individual athletics like gymnastics or dance
  • Skills for recreation like biking, swimming, hiking, throwing frisbees, playing games with friends

How Adapted PE works:

Access or accessible means how easy it is to do, to get, or understand something.

There are four main areas where changing general PE curriculum (school courses) may help you access PE. Some of these changes will benefit ALL students using the general PE curriculum.

  • The physical space can be changed to work well for all students:
  • The size of the space and the number of other students can affect how accessible the PE class is for you.
  • Lighting, sound, and what you see can all affect your comfort in a class. Making thoughtful changes to these things can make a PE class more accessible.
  • Teaching: the teacher gathers information about individual students to make sure that they use teaching methods that are accessible to everyone. This might mean spoken instructions, movements, pictures, written words, showing how to do something, or videos.
  • Equipment: depending on your disability, you might need PE equipment to move more slowly, be bigger or smaller, easier to feel, be easier to see and other changes like those.
  • Rules: to make sure PE includes everyone, rules of the game may need to be added or taken away.

Examples of Adapted PE

The point of Adapted PE is to change the general PE curriculum so that it is accessible for you or any other student with a disability. The changes can be individualized, which means it is designed for one individual student with disability. Changes will depend on what your needs are and will be different from student to student. Here are some examples:

  • A third grader with autism spectrum disorder uses a play script on her communication device to invite other students to play tag with her.
  • A high-school senior with Down Syndrome is introduced to adult recreation choices in his community so he can continue building healthy habits after graduation.
  • A seventh grader with Cerebral Palsy attends general PE class. The Adapted PE teacher, general PE teacher, and the physical therapist work together to create an exercise plan to strengthen the student’s legs while using their walker.
  • Design a unified team for sport activities and competitions, so a high school student with disabilities can play in the same team with students without disabilities
  • Adapted Physical Education teachers are trained to make changes to the general education PE curriculum to make it accessible to students with disabilities.

IEPs can include Adapted PE as a service

To get an Individualized Education Program (IEP) you need an evaluation. This process helps to decide if a student has a disability, if the disability has a significant impact on (really affects) learning, and if you need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and/or related services to access a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE is the right of any student, ages 3-21, who is eligible for school-based services delivered through an IEP.

If a student’s access to PE affects learning and needs the school’s PE course to be individualized, Adapted PE can be given as an IEP service. IEP teams discuss how Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is delivered for each individual student.

If you have Adapted PE in your IEP, there is a range of options for placement. You might be in a general PE class, with or without accommodations. Additional aids, services, and modifications may be added depending on what you need. Get more details in the Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education.

You can go to IEP and 504 meetings to let the team know what you want and need.  Beginning at age 14, you can participate in IEP and 504 meetings. You do not have to be invited by the school or your parents, but it’s a good idea to let your parents know you want to go, and to get ready before the meeting. When you are at these meetings, you can show other team members what is important to you about your learning, including Physical education. (Click on the links in the reference section to learn more about going to IEP and 504 meetings.)

All of you on the team can work out a PE plan, which may include Adapted PE, and put it in your IEP. There are two articles in the References section at the end about going to your IEP meeting.

Rules changed and removed some difficulties with getting Adapted PE

Until spring of 2024, Adapted PE was not accepted as a specialty that the state would endorse (add to the training listed on a teacher’s professional certificate). This caused a shortage of teachers who could design Adapted PE for students. It made it difficult for some students with disability in Washington State to get SDI in physical education.

As of May 1, 2024, qualifying[1] teachers in Washington State can be trained for and receive a specialty endorsement in Adapted Physical Education. The endorsement shows the teacher has specific skills and knowledge in both PE Learning Standards and special education competencies. As more teachers are taught this specialty, it will be easier to find teachers with Adapted PE training in Washington State.

The OSPI Updated Guidance says that in addition to teachers with an Adapted PE endorsement, SDI for physical education can be provided by “any other appropriately qualified special education endorsed teacher, or an “appropriately qualified Educational Staff Associate (ESA) such as an Occupational Therapist (OT) or a Physical Therapist (PT).”

Summary:

  • Physical Education (PE) is an important part of school. Students with disabilities have the right to be taught physical education.
  • Adapted PE is when the general PE school course (curriculum) is changed to accommodate (meet the needs) of an individual student with disability.
  • Adapted PE can be included in an Individualized Education Plan or a Section 504 plan.
  • If a student needs Adapted PE, it’s important to include someone on the IEP team who is qualified to design adapted PE, as well as the teacher or other school staff who will be teaching the student.
  • Only certain qualified education professionals can design and supervise other educators and school staff teaching Adapted PE. Changes in WA State rules in 2024 allow more education professionals to qualify in Adapted PE.

Resources:

Updated Guidance on Adapted Physical Education  (WA State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI))

Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future (PAVE)

Students: Get Ready to Participate in Your IEP Meeting with a Handout for the Team (PAVE)

Who’s Who on the IEP Team (PAVE)

Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More (PAVE)

A previous version of this article was based on information provided by two experts in the field of Adapted Physical Education, Toni Bader, and Lauren Wood, who are Adapted Physical Education teachers in the Seattle area:

Toni Bader, M.Ed., CAPE – SHAPE Washington, Adapted Physical Education, Seattle Public Schools (tonibader24@hotmail.com)

Lauren Wood, NBCT, Adapted Physical Education Teacher, Highline Public Schools, and SHAPE Washington Board Member (lauren.wood@highlineschools.org)


[1] “Certificated teachers who hold any special education endorsement or a Health/Fitness endorsement are eligible to add the APE specialty endorsement to their certificate”  –OSPI Updated Guidance

Bullying at School: Key Points for Families and Students with Disabilities

Transcript of this video is below:

When students with disabilities are bullied, schools are legally responsible to end the bullying.

By law, schools must act to restore the safety and well-being of students who are harmed by harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

Those words—harassment, intimidation, and bullying, make an acronym: HIB. This video is about HIB protections for students with disabilities.

Please note that bullying increases the risks for suicide and self-harming behaviors.

For a mental health crisis, call 988

For crisis help on topics related to sexual orientation and identity, call The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386

What law says the school has to end the bullying and help my student?

Specific anti-bullying protections for students with disabilities come from Section 504, which is part of a federal law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The civil right to be protected from bullying applies to all students with disabilities, regardless of whether they have a Section 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These rights are upheld by the Office for Civil Rights—OCR.

Anyone who knows about an incident of harassment, intimidation, and bullying at school or during a school-sponsored activity can file an OCR complaint at the local, state, or federal level.

What does state law require?

Washington State’s 2019 Legislature passed a law that requires school districts to write formal HIB policies and appoint a person called a HIB Compliance Officer to spread awareness and uphold the laws.

What can parents do?

If your child is bullied at school, ask for the name of your district’s HIB Compliance Officer. Talk to that person about your options and request a HIB complaint form.

If the act included a physical assault or serious property damage, file a police report.

Request an emergency meeting of the IEP or Section 504 team to add supports for the student to ensure emotional and physical safety at school.

What counts as harassment, intimidation, or bullying?

Washington State defines a HIB violation as an intentional act that:

  • Physically harms a student or damages the student’s property
  • Has the effect of substantially disrupting a student’s education
  • Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment
  • Or has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of school

A HIB act may be electronic, written, verbal, or physical.

What does a school have to do when a child with a disability is bullied?

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate what happened. That means they talk to everyone involved and any witnesses and write a detailed report.

OCR requires the school to stop the bullying now and into the future.

OCR also says that schools must make sure the student who was bullied is helped and not further injured by actions taken in response. The victim should not be suspended, for example.

OCR says: “Any remedy should not burden the student who has been bullied.”

To learn more about federal laws and complaints, contact OCR at 800-421-3481.

Type the word Bullying or Discipline into the search bar at wapave.org to find additional resources.

Bullying at School: Resources and the Rights of Students with Special Needs

A Brief Overview

  • OCR provides a fact sheet for parents about school legal obligations to address bullying. The fact sheet is available in Spanish.
  • According to OCR, students who are victims of bullying shall not be further victimized by the school’s response: “Any remedy should not burden the student who has been bullied.”
  • Families can ask the school for a form to file a “HIB Complaint.” HIB stands for Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying.
  • OCR investigates complaints of disability discrimination at schools. OCR’s Complaint Assessment System provides a place to choose a language before filing a complaint. Contact OCR at 800-421-3481 (TDD: 800-877-8339).
  • Bullying protections apply to all students with disabilities, regardless of whether they are served through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a Section 504 Plan.
  • Failure to stop bullies and support a victimized student with disabilities is considered a denial of the student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The U.S. Department of Education provides a Dear Colleague letter with guidance about bullying as a FAPE violation.
  • Find additional guidance at StopBullying.gov, which offers suggestions for parents and what teens can do.

Full Article

Students with disabilities who are bullied at school have legal protections, and schools have added responsibilities to ensure their safety and well-being. When acts of bullying involve discrimination based on disability, race, sex, or religion, federal agencies classify those acts as harassment.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) list the following as harassing behaviors:

  • Unwelcome conduct, such as verbal abuse, name calling, epithets, or slurs
  • Graphic or written statements
  • Threats
  • Physical assault
  • Other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating

The PACER Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center, founded in 2006, provides this OCR and DOJ information and further explains that “bullying may also be considered harassment when the conduct is sufficiently serious that it interferes with (or limits) a student’s ability to participate in (or benefit from) the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school, and it is based on a student’s disability.”

PACER Center provides letter templates to help parents write to the school and reminds families: “Data is important. Remember, if it is not in writing, it does not exist. Please be sure to keep a copy of the letter(s) for your records. These records can help parents keep a concise, accurate timeline of events. These sample letters are general in nature in order to serve all potential users.”

What does a school have to do when a child with a disability is bullied?

OCR provides a fact sheet for parents about school legal obligations to address bullying. The fact sheet is available in Spanish. Here are a school’s basic responsibilities:

  • Take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the issue and take necessary steps to stop the bullying and prevent it from recurring.
  • Interview targeted students, offending students, and witnesses, and maintain written documentation of the investigation.
  • Remedy the effects of bullying by further supporting a student with services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan.
  • Make sure the student who was bullied is helped and not further injured by actions taken in response. For example, the victim should not be suspended. According to OCR: “Any remedy should not burden the student who has been bullied.”

To learn more about student rights related to discipline, see PAVE’s article: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.

What can a parent do?

Every school district has a process for filing a formal complaint related to harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB). A parent or student can say, “I want to file a HIB complaint” and request the proper forms from the school.

Here are options for families:

  • Contact the HIB compliance officer in your school district.
  • Search online or request a HIB complaint form.
  • Request copies of the student handbook and the district’s written HIB policy.
  • If the act included a violation of the law, such as a physical assault, file a police report.
  • Request an emergency meeting of the IEP or Section 504 team to add supports for the student to ensure emotional and physical safety at school.
  • Ask the school district compliance officer for specific details—in writing—about who is responsible to stop the bullying, what will be done, and when. Ask how that officer will provide follow through and confirm accountability schoolwide. Write everything down.
  • Seek help from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The office investigates complaints of disability discrimination at schools. OCR’s Complaint Assessment System provides a place to choose your language before filing a complaint.
  • To learn more about federal civil rights laws or how to file a complaint, contact OCR at 800-421-3481 (TDD: 800-877-8339).

Rules in Washington State

The 2019 Legislature passed Substitute Senate Bill 5698, a Washington State law that prohibits harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB) in schools. The law requires school districts to have a formal HIB policy and a person designated to uphold the policy and distribute information among staff, students, and families.

The Washington HIB Prevention and Intervention Toolkit is accessible through the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The toolkit includes guidance for students and families and includes a link to a spreadsheet that lists HIB compliance officers in each school district.

Washington State defines harassment, intimidation, or bullying (RCW 28A.300.285) as any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act that:

  • Physically harms a student or damages the student’s property
  • Has the effect of substantially disrupting a student’s education
  • Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment
  • Has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school

The Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds (OEO) offers direct support to students and their families. OEO provides an online intake form and a phone option, with language interpretation available: 1-866-297-2597.

According to OEO, “Bullying and harassment can be a difficult topic for schools, families and students, but not talking about it can make it worse.” OEO provides information and tools to help families figure out who to talk to, how to raise informal and formal complaints, and how to help prevent and respond to bullying or harassment: “If you have questions, or want help understanding or addressing a concern, contact us.”

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU Washington) provides a downloadable guidebook on student rights. A section about harassment states: “Harassment is illegal when it is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or hostile school environment and interferes with your education.”

How common is bullying of students with disabilities?

Data show that students with disabilities are bullied at least twice as frequently as their typical classmates. According to the PACER Center: “Although only ten U.S. studies have been conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, all of these studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.”

According to Disability Scoop, about half of individuals with autism, intellectual disabilities, speech impairments and learning disabilities are bullied at school. The rate of bullying for typical students is about 10 percent.

Stopping stigma and ending discrimination require everyone to consider myths about bullying that often make things worse for a person who has been the victim of harassment, intimidation, or bullying. PACER Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center provides a document that describes myths about bullying.

For example, it’s never true that “some people deserve to be bullied.” Here’s a statement to dispel that myth: “No child’s behavior justifies being hurt or harmed in any manner. All children deserve to be treated with respect and consideration.”

It’s also never true that “bullying will make kids tougher.” In fact, “Bullying does not make someone tougher. Research has shown it often has the opposite effect and lowers a child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Bullying often creates fear and increases anxiety for a child.”

Another myth is that telling a teacher about bullying is “tattling.” Adults can ensure that children understand the difference between tattling and telling: “Tattling is done to get someone in trouble. Telling is done to protect someone.” Keeping secrets about a bully gives the bully more power and hurts everyone.

Federal Guidance

The U.S. Department of Education maintains a website page with access to resources about student rights and anti-bullying protections. The department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can accept complaints with overlapping civil rights concerns. For example, a complaint about bullying may also include aspects of racism and disability discrimination. OCR points out that bullying concerns that are not appropriately addressed can violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

“Under Section 504 and Title II, schools must address bullying and harassment that are based on a student’s disability and that interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school. Further, if any bullying or harassing behavior interferes with the ability of a student with a disability to access educational services, the situation, if uncorrected, may constitute a FAPE violation. OCR works with other offices in the Department, as well as with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), to address bullying and harassment of students with disabilities.”

Crisis Help

A child’s mental well-being may be impacted by bullying. If a student or family member needs someone to talk to in an emergent moment of crisis, these phone numbers may be helpful:

  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
  • General Teen Talk line: 800-TLC-TEEN
  • Trevor Project (issues related to sexuality): 866-488-7386

Additional hotlines and text lines:  Suicide Hotlines.com