Education

Claim: Teen Swimmer Disqualified Because of Diabetes Monitor

Ethan Orr's latest school photo.
Ethan Orr's latest school photo. Courtesy of the Orr family
A complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division has been filed against the Colorado High School Athletics Association (CHSAA) on behalf of Ethan Orr, a sixteen-year-old Colorado Springs resident.

According to the complaint, Orr, who has Type1 diabetes, wasn't allowed to compete in the state swimming championships this past June because he wore a glucose monitor taped to his arm. Moreover, the document asserts that the rest of his relay team was disqualified as a result.

"I knew I’d have to fight my disease to swim, but I never imagined I’d have to fight discrimination to swim," Orr says in a statement. "If I didn’t have diabetes, the team wouldn’t have been disqualified from the last event of the meet."

Kishinevsky & Raykin law firm attorney Igor Raykin, who's handling the complaint on behalf of Orr and his family, doesn't see the incident as isolated. "This is yet another in a long line of discriminatory actions that CHSAA has engaged in against Colorado kids with disabilities," he says. "This kid already has challenges because he’s a Type 1 diabetic. He doesn’t need to have his life made more difficult by CHSAA."


Raykin has particularly harsh words for CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green and others in the organization who "behave like they're accountable to nobody. She needs to resign," he adds.

Neither Blanford-Green nor multiple CHSAA representatives have responded to Westword's requests for comment.

The DOJ complaint, which asserts that CHSAA violated parts of the Americans With Disabilities Act, notes that Orr is a junior at Manitou Springs High School but swims for Coronado High School, since his home school doesn't have a boys' swimming program. Because of his condition, Orr wears a glucose monitor that attaches to his arm with adhesive tape; he adds an extra layer of tape while swimming to hold it in place. "When Ethan swims, his blood sugar can vary, so continued monitoring of his levels is crucial to correct any changes to his blood sugar and ensure he does not become hypo- or hyperglycemic, or develop diabetic ketoacidosis," the complaint stresses.

With his Coronado High School team, Orr qualified to participate at the CHSAA state championships in three categories — men's 200-yard medley relay, men's 200-yard freestyle relay and men's 400-yard freestyle relay — and he wasn't questioned about the glucose monitor in at least seven previous races.

That changed on June 25 during the championship meet, staged at the Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center in Thornton. Head CHSAA swimming official Kent Christie reportedly approached Orr about the monitor before quizzing his coach, Nathan Holm. Christie asked if Orr had a doctor's note pertaining to the device — something unnecessary, the complaint argues, because he "has an approved Section 504 plan for his diabetes." When Holm confirmed that he didn't have such a note, Christie disqualified Orr and, by association, the rest of his team.

Even after obtaining swim-meet results confirming the disqualifications and an email thread involving Holm and a CHSAA representative, Raykin is unsure which organizational rule Orr is supposed to have violated. However, he speculates that it involves a prohibition against tape that could increase a competitor's "speed, buoyance or body compression" or is being used to "treat" a medical condition. In his view, neither of these edicts can be applied to a glucose monitor.

“This is simply blatant discrimination against a kid with a disability, and it led to unnecessary and unfair consequences for him, his teammates and the school," Raykin believes. "CHSAA’s harsh decision-making is a threat to all Colorado kids, and especially to kids with disabilities."

Click to read the Ethan Orr Department of Justice complaint.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts