Buffalo School Families and Community Call for the Return of Unified Sports
BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) – Unified Sports offers students with special needs the opportunity to participate in a variety of sports.
But while all other varsity teams in the Buffalo Public School District were cleared to return to play this month, the District’s unified basketball did not.
This controversial decision by the city’s school district receives a strong response from families and the school community.
“Let them play, let them play” was the rallying cry of the Masten basketball courts in Buffalo.
Parents, students, teachers and coaches oppose the district’s decision to stop unified sports.
While other unified teams in western New York are allowed to play, the city’s school district issued the letter indicating that the sports department is facing its own “set of challenges” due to Covid and will only allow the reopening of varsity sports, but will not offer sports at this time.
“Playing for unified sports has changed my life and the lives of the other children I play with for Olmsted,” said Nasir, a student at Olmsted School.
Nasir says he has autism and plays with many other children like him. He calls on the district to bring back unified sports.
“It’s something special. It’s something that gives kids the opportunity to play like the varsity team and JV, ”Nasir noted.
Unified Sports allows students with intellectual disabilities to play on varsity teams with school athletes.
“And I had a parent come over to me and ask me which student has a disability and that’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever heard,” said Jim Bartram, teacher and Olmsted trainer.
“It’s disappointing. It’s also heartbreaking for our children,” said Shannon Kiblins, parent.
Noah, Kiblin’s 16-year-old son, is a Unified Sports basketball player at City Honors School.
Four schools in the city; City Honors, Olmsted, Hutch Tech, and Middle College all participate. A coach is provided for each team and the students play six games.
Noah is in grade 11 at City Honors and is also enrolled in the school’s STARS program for students with autism.
“Are you missing the basketball?” Buckley asked.
“Yeah, I like playing basketball with my team,” Noah replied. Noah’s mom says Unified Sports has made her some special friendships.
“They saw each other in the hallways. They would stop and chat – sometimes Noah would sit with him and his friends at lunch and that’s all that would ever have happened, ”Kiblin explained.
Parents say they received several reasons from the district sports department, including telling families that they are not sure how the students ended up in their department and “turn them over to the special education department.”
Kiblin says it’s outrageous.
“This is the box that you put them in – you’re basically saying that every aspect of their schooling – whatever they do, it will be based on their special education and not on who they are as children,” explained Kiblin.
Edward Speidel is the parent of a special education student in Olmsted. He says the decision lacks fairness.
“There is no fairness when you let a general education student play basketball and you don’t let a special education child play – it’s embarrassing and insulting and we can’t stand it,” said Speidel.
District Parent Coordinating Council Chair Wendy Mistretta is calling on the district to reverse its decision.
“We think the district made a mistake in not scheduling unified basketball this year,” Mistretta said.
District Attorney General Nathaniel Kuzma issued a statement with the following statement to 7 Eyewitness News:
“It’s fair to say that there are students with disabilities on all or nearly all of our sports teams because the District does not exclude students with disabilities from participating in regular District sports offerings. Separating students with disabilities from these opportunities is legally problematic. “
Nathaniel Kuzma, Special Advocate, Buffalo Public School District
A very reliable source tells 7 Eyewitness News that all four schools are ready and willing to host plays for students.