Julia Sullivan wants to be a cheerleader.
So she's practiced. Her older sister, a former cheerleader, helped her figure out ways she could cheer from her wheelchair. Julia, who'll be a junior at Aurora High School this fall, was born without legs and with arms that stop short of her elbows.
This spring, for the third time, she tried out to be a cheerleader. For the third time, she didn't made the squad.
Last month, she and her parents, Mike and Carolyn Sullivan, asked the Aurora school board to correct what they see as “scoring errors” in her tryout evaluations this spring, saying she was given no accommodation for her disability.
Kevin Schneider, a Lincoln attorney representing the Sullivans, said the policy of treating everyone equally is inappropriate when it comes to someone who has a legally recognized disability.
“We would agree that there are some activities such as football where the ability to run and tackle are fundamental to the sport,” he said. “Making reasonable accommodations and modifications for cheerleading are not fundamental in that same way.”
He also said there is a difference between a legally recognized disability, such as having no legs, and normal differences in human performance, such as coordination.
Amy Miller, an attorney for the ACLU of Nebraska, also argued for the need to accommodate students with disabilities in a July 1 letter to the board.
Schneider laid out the family's requests in a June 9 letter to the school board. He also detailed the steps they had taken to try to resolve the issue.
The sponsor of the program, he wrote, asked administrators before last spring's tryouts what accommodations should be made for Julia. The sponsor was told Julia was to be judged in the same way as other participants. Three tryout judges were given the same instructions. Seventy-five percent of a participant's score was based on physical activities. Twenty-five percent was based on teacher evaluation.
In the performance portion, Julia received her lowest score in the jumps/kicks category and her highest marks in the communication skills and enthusiasm/spirit categories.