WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will revise policies that have prevented hundreds of students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities from playing college sports and getting a scholarship, under a landmark agreement reached today with the Justice Department. The agreement, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., stems from a series of complaints lodged with the Justice Department by student athletes over the past 2 1/2 years. The complaints alleged that the NCAA's initial eligibility requirements violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against student athletes with learning disabilities. "An intelligent student who happens to have dyslexia can succeed academically in college and should not be excluded from playing college sports," said Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee. "With today's agreement, the NCAA is opening doors for hundreds of students who want to go to college and play sports." After receiving a complaint in 1995, the Justice Department launched a 30-month investigation into the way the NCAA grants eligibility. The NCAA requires a showing that a student can succeed academically in college while playing sports. It determines whether a student has met this standard based on a series of eligibility requirements involving, courses taken, grade point average, and standardized test scores. Students who do not meet the NCAA requirements cannot receive athletics-related financial aid or participate in sports. Last October, at the completion of its investigation, the Justice Department issued a letter of findings calling the NCAA's eligibility requirements too "rigid." It found that the NCAA often refused to give students with learning disabilities credit for classes in which the materials or methods of instruction were modified to accommodate the students' disabilities. The Justice Department noted that many classes were rejected even though the classes provided the same knowledge and skills as other courses that were credited. The NCAA also allegedly rejected classes if they were taught within a school's "special education" department or if the title of the class suggested the classes were "remedial," no matter what the content of the course was. Although the NCAA had a waiver policy, which granted certain students exceptions to academic requirements, the Justice Department found that the waiver process placed students with learning disabilities at a significant disadvantage relative to their peers. Mr. Lee noted that today's settlement enables the NCAA to maintain its academic standards but modify the methods it

uses to assess whether students with learning disabilities meet those standards. Under the settlement, the NCAA will: Certify classes designed for students with learning disabilities, if the classes provide students with the same types of skills and knowledge as those offered other college-bound students;

Enable students with learning disabilities who do not meet the initial eligibility rules when they graduate high school to earn a fourth year of athletic eligibility if they complete a substantial percentage of their degree work and maintain good grades;

Direct the NCAA committees that evaluate applications filed by students who do not meet the requirements but are seeking a waiver to review the student's high school preparation and performance when deciding whether to grant a waiver;

Include experts on learning disabilities on the committees that evaluate a student's application for waiver;

Designate one or more employees as an "ADA Compliance Coordinator," to serve as a resource to NCAA staff and as a liaison with students with learning disabilities;

Train its staff on the new policies and publicize the terms of the agreement to high schools, students, parents and member colleges and universities; and,

Pay a total of $35,000 in damages to four student-athletes.

"We are pleased the NCAA has found an innovative solution that ensures students are ready for college and yet does not discriminate against students with learning disabilities," added Mr. Lee. Since the Justice Department issued its findings letter last October, the NCAA already has made several changes to its policy. This is the Justice Department's first court agreement filed under the ADA regarding people with learning disabilities. A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects a person's ability to process information that they see and hear, or link information from different parts of the brain. Dyslexia, a reading disability, is perhaps the most common form of learning disability. It is estimated that between five and ten percent of the population experiences learning disabilities. For further information, individuals can call the Justice Department's toll-free ADA Information Line. The hotline was established by Attorney General Janet Reno as part of a nationwide campaign to educate the public about the ADA. The number is 1-800-514-0301 (voice) or 1-800-514-0383 (TDD). The Justice Department

also has established an ADA home page on the World Wide Web at: # # #