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Judge allows wheelchair-bound student to compete
The Associated Press
Originally published April 17, 2006, 8:04 PM EDT
A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against a school district that will allow a wheelchair athlete to run at track events at the same time as her able-bodied teammates.
Tatyana McFadden, 16, won two medals at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and is a student at Atholton High School in Columbia. The Howard County school system had allowed her to practice with the track team, but ruled she must compete in separate wheelchair events.
That meant she mostly competes by herself, according to Lauren Young of the Maryland Disability Law Center, which filed a federal suit on McFadden's behalf.
But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis granted McFadden's request for a preliminary injunction against the school system, The (Baltimore) Daily Record reported.
"It's what I've been waiting for," McFadden, who will now race with her teammates and other competitors at a meet tomorrow, told The Record. "I was fortunate that the judge understood my side."
Mark Blom, an attorney for the school system, said last month when the suit was filed that the system has worked extensively with McFadden to allow her to be a part of the team and to incorporate wheelchair events into track competitions, but is against merging the two types of events.
But Davis disagreed.
"The more I hear your argument, the more transparently arbitrary and capricious it becomes," the judge said to Blom and P. Tyson Bennett, who represented the Howard County Board of Education and the superintendent of the Howard County Public Schools. "She's not suing for blue ribbons, gold ribbons or money - she just wants to be out there when everyone else is out there."
McFadden's claims were based on the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits exclusion of persons with disabilities from programs and activities that receive federal funds, the law center said. McFadden has spina bifida.
Her mother, Deborah McFadden, said Monday's ruling was a landmark.
"The Rehabilitation Act has been around for 33 years," she said. "Maybe we've succeeded in a classroom setting, but there's more to a person's life."