Texas Cheerleader With Down Syndrome Fights For Right To Make Team

GARLAND, Tx. -- If you want to see joy mixed with pure determination, watch 13-year-old Madison Thompson cheer.

It's much more than a hobby. She's competed for Cheer Athletics, the private gym she's been with for 10 years. She's racked up several trophies, dozens of bows, and even graced the cover of a cheerleading magazine!

But there's something else she wants to add to her resume.

"This year I want to try out for middle school cheer," said Madison.

Madison auditioned last year for the team at Garland ISD's Coyle Middle School, where she attends. She didn't make it.

"She has the skills, they just might not be the same as a normal developing child," said her mother, Shannon Thompson.

Thompson says she spoke with the district about ways to help her daughter, who has Down syndrome, better prepare for this year's auditions at her speed.

"She specifically said that it's going to be the exact same as last year, and Maddie would not have any accommodations," said Thompson.

But Thompson has the right to ask for them.

The U.S. Department of Education has a federal rule that says public schools should provide "equal opportunity for participation" in extra-curricular activities for people with disabilities. And that opens the door for providing extra help, like more rehearsal time or an aid to help Madison audition to the best of her ability.

We contacted Garland ISD for comment and received a lengthy statement Wednesday evening, saying in part, "GISD will provide reasonable modifications in order to ensure that every student is afforded an equal opportunity to participate in the tryout process."

Thompson knows her daughter still might not make the team, but with this guarantee she'll get what she's always wanted for Madison. A fair shot.

Thompson started a petition online in support of Madison's efforts to gain accommodations that has now passed 4,000 signatures.

Here is the complete statement from Garland ISD:

"Garland ISD is inclusive of all students and provides an equal opportunity for all qualified students who wish to participate in our open cheer auditions. It is the goal of the district to provide every qualified student with a disability an opportunity to audition for the cheerleading program on a level that is equal to that of students without disabilities.

We operate under the guidelines laid out by the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to ensure that all GISD cheerleading programs adhere to the district’s responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The GISD centralized cheerleading tryout process is designed in such a way that every student is provided with an equitable and nondiscriminatory audition experience. The tryout process is designed to assess the required level of skill and ability necessary for students to participate in each school’s cheer program. GISD cheer tryouts do not operate on the basis of any generalization, assumption, prejudice or stereotypes about disability generally, or specific disabilities, in particular.

The tryout process is open to all qualified students. Equal opportunity for participation is afforded to any qualified student seeking to try out for a spot on a GISD cheer team. GISD will provide reasonable modifications in order to ensure that every student is afforded an equal opportunity to participate in the tryout process, unless doing so would be a fundamental alteration to the tryout process.

Requested modifications must not alter essential aspects of the tryout process or provide any student with an unfair advantage. The GISD centralized tryout process is designed to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate fundamental cheerleading skills that are essential and necessary for the cheerleading team of each campus. The tryout process allows students to demonstrate their ability to learn and perform a specific routine within a set amount of time. The tryout process also assesses a student’s ability to perform specific cheerleading skills including tumbling, jumps, motion technique, voice projection, timing and memory. These skills and abilities are scored according to a standardized judging criteria which is used to assess every candidate equally."

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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