COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Colorado Springs swimmer has filed a federal discrimination complaint against the Colorado High School Activities Association after being disqualified from a swim competition over his glucose monitor.
Sixteen-year-old Ethan Orr is a competitive swimmer for Coronado High School. He qualified for the state championships and had already competed in two events during the June competition when a CHSAA referee came up and inquired about his arm monitor.
“Ethan was given the choice to remove it from his arm or not to compete in that event and he chose not to compete in that event. He thought that would allow his team to swim,” said the teen’s mother, Amanda Terrell-Orr.
Orr has been battling Type 1 diabetes since he was 10; last year was the first that he was able to start swimming competitively again, so he joined his high school team.
Terrell-Orr says her son has had a difficult journey managing his diabetes this year because of how much energy goes into swimming.
“This season was the most difficult time we’ve ever had in managing his type 1 diabetes. He’s had the most dangerous low blood sugars, and he somehow in the face of that he persevered, he practiced with the support of his coach and athletic trainer and he got a state-qualifying time,” Terrell-Orr said.
She says her son needs to be wearing the glucose monitor at all times because it is connected to his insulin pump and removing it could disrupt the algorithm to determine whether he needs insulin.
Throughout the season, though her son has been able to swim with the monitor and used tape to hold it in place throughout the season without any issues.
He also swims on a private team during the off-season that operates under USA Swimming rules and says the monitor has never been viewed as a rule violation.
At the state championships, Orr’s coach was told by the referee he should have been disqualified from all of the events without a doctor’s note.
“The rule does not apply to the situation. He wasn’t wearing a foreign substance or device to aid in his speed, buoyancy or body compression,” Terrell-Orr said. “It basically slows him down and puts him at a disadvantage compared to other swimmers, but that’s not something he’s requested an accommodation for. He simply wants to have an equity.”
After the discussion with his coach and the referee, Orr agreed to sit out, but the team couldn’t find a replacement in enough time and was disqualified from the final relay race.
Terrell-Orr says her son felt a tremendous amount of guilt for his team not being able to compete.
Afterward, Orr’s coach reached out to CHSAA to discuss the incident but did not receive a response.
The family then reached out to education and civil rights attorney Igor Raykin with the Colorado Law Team for help.
“I cannot imagine for the life of me how a glucose monitor could give him a competitive advantage. It’s not a rocket booster it’s a glucose monitor,” Raykin said.
Because CHSAA has no state oversight, Raykin decided to file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice and CHSAA.
The family wants CHSAA to change its policies or clarify rules so that wearing a glucose monitor will not disqualify student-athletes.
“We see it as a public accommodation under the law, and a public accommodation is not allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities such as Ethan,” Raykin said.
At this point, the family is not pursuing a lawsuit and is not seeking financial damages, but Raykin says if some sort of action isn’t taken to change the association’s policies, litigation could be on the table.
“It’s really infuriating when an agency like CHSAA is more focused on denying kids with disabilities the right to participate than it is in ensuring they have an inclusive environment for kids,” Raykin said.
Terrell-Orr believes the group owes her son and his team an apology. She says she’s never been as angry in her life as she was when her son was removed from a competition he worked so hard to qualify for and she sees this as yet another obstacle for her family to overcome.
“It’s been extremely painful for the entire family and Ethan has had to work hard to build back up his confidence and his belief that the system can be fair,” she said.
CHSAA provided the following statement Tuesday night:
CHSAA has received requests for comment regarding a complaint filed with the DOJ alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. CHSAA received a copy of the complaint yesterday afternoon and I am reviewing it. It is not our policy to respond to inquiries regarding filed complaints, however, given the misleading and inflammatory statements of the student’s legal counsel, there are certain facts you need to be aware of.
During the 2020-21 state swim championship, a referee noticed the student had a strip of tape on his arm. The referee asked the student if he had the necessary signed medical authorization letter as required under the National Federation of High Schools 2020/21, Rule 3-3-5 that applies to all participants. The rule specifies that tape may be used by a participant to treat a documented medical condition but the referee must be presented with signed documentation from a health care professional that certifies it is safe for the student to participate with the device attached. All coaches were informed of this requirement through multiple CHSAA notices.
The student did not have a signed medical authorization, and the referee advised him that he would not be able to compete in his final event, the 400 free relay. This decision was required by the rules of the NFHS that govern all participants equally and had nothing to do with the student’s disabilities
The referee also informed the coach of the decision. The coach stated that he had other athletes available for the event and the event proceeded with an alternate participant. Neither the student nor the team were disqualified. The team competed but was subsequently disqualified for an early takeoff completely unrelated to the matter of the student in question.
KMGH reached out to the Department of Justice for a statement but did not receive comment.
This story was originally published by Meghan Lopez at KMGH.