Students with disabilities are welcome to join St. Michael-Albertville schools’ extra- curricular athletic and academic opportunities for grades 7 and up, but currently there is only one school-sponsored option, adapted bowling, that caters specifically to this population of students. Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said the district does not cut students from athletic teams at the middle level, but they do cut at the high school level, which can limit special needs students’ ability to participate. However, opportunities will soon expand for this group thanks to a new co-op formed with the Monticello and Buffalo school districts.
The Buffalo district recently reached out to STMA about forming additional adaptive sports teams for cognitively impaired students that are sponsored by the Minnesota State High School League. The three schools agreed to join forces in this effort, and they will now offer adapted soccer in the fall, adapted floor hockey in the winter and adapted softball in the spring.
These new options cater to cognitively impaired students, which are students who have an individualized education plan and have an IQ of 70 or below. High school activities director, Keith Cornell, said the three districts had conversations about availability for physically impaired students, but he said the districts agreed they don’t have a significant number of students right now to build teams for physically impaired students.
Buffalo has offered to host the activities for the rest of this school year. They have been offering adapted softball in the spring for several years, and those coaches have agreed to coach floor hockey this winter. Next year Monticello and STMA will each host one of the three activities.
Foucault said they estimate the program will cost approximately $5,000 per season, or $15,000 per year on the high end. This will cover equipment and simple uniforms, and the three districts will purchase the equipment together and share it. Students will also pay an activity fee to participate. The sports will have state tournaments just as any other sport sanctioned by the MSHL.
“It’s a different sort of access that I’ve been involved with in a different school district,” said Amy Larkin, the district’s manager of special services and one of the organizers of this new cooperative athletic program. “They love it. They absolutely love having their team and having different choices in sports. This will be really exciting for our athletes with disabilities.”
“I think this is great,” board chair Drew Scherber said. “This gets a start for us to include kids who aren’t included in things.”
However, one parent in attendance said she didn’t feel the new programs would adequately meet the needs of STMA’s special education population. Aimee Libby said these adapted sports will only be available for a small fraction of the district’s students with special needs and suggested it would have been beneficial to survey parents and staff first to make sure the adapted sports would meet the needs of students with disabilities.
“The Stallions Special Olympics team will continue to be the main source of sporting opportunities for individuals with disabilities as it has been for the past 5+ years,” Libby said.
However, school board members said they felt it would fill an important gap for high school students with special needs who might otherwise be cut from some traditional athletic programs, and called the program a good step in the right direction.
The STMA school board agreed unanimously to enter into the new co-op, and the first adaptive floor hockey season will begin this winter.
This article has been edited to correct an inaccuracy. The original version misattributed a quote to Aimee Libby, local parent and leader of STMA’s Special Olympics Team, when it had actually been said by Amy Larkin, director of special services for the STMA school district. NWCT regrets the error.