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Could eligibility for athletes with special needs be expanded?

Posted at 5:36 AM, May 02, 2019

CLARENCE, N.Y. (WKBW) — The New York State Education Commissioner is commenting about the possible expansion of eligibility rules for Unified Sports players in New York. It's the first time we're hearing from MaryEllen Elia since parents in the Clarence School District raised concerns about how long students could play with those teams.

Unified teams are made up of students with special needs and their peers. Students with special needs are able to stay in high school until they are 21-years-old, but they aren't allowed to be part of Unified teams that long. Many of them are no longer eligible by the time they are 18.

Parents in the Clarence School District have been working to expand the eligibility for Unified athletes. They'd like to have the state approve a waiver that would allow students to continue to play past the eligibility for most high school athletes. The parents say for Unified athletes the teams aren't about competition - they're about connecting with friends, and developing social skills.

Elia was in Buffalo to speak at UB. 7 Eyewitness News asked her about the possibility of expanding eligibility. She said, "It may require a change in regulation, but we need to work with that athletic association across the state and find out exactly what the issues would be, and how we might be able to make those changes."

Elia didn't elaborate on when those changes would be considered, or if a timeline existed. 7 Eyewitness News will continue to look for answers to those questions.