School Refuses to Allow Service Dog: US Supreme Court Takes the Case

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

goldendoodleThe US Supreme Court has decided to hear a case about a school that refused to allow a service dog to accompany a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy to school.  Wonder, a goldendoodle, found a home with Ehlena Fry when the girl was just five years old and is trained to help Ehlena by picking things up for her when she drops them, turning on lights, opening and closing doors, and other helpful tasks. To the family’s dismay, the Michigan school district would not allow Wonder into the building at all, initially.  When it did allow a “trial” basis, Wonder was forced to stay on the other side of the classroom and the district would not let Wonder stay with Ehlena for recess or lunch. 

The family filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and OCR found in their favor, compelling the district to allow Ehlena to bring her service dog to school.  However, the struggle had been going on for three years and, by that time, the relationship between the school and the family was too damaged.  Ultimately, Ehlena’s parents felt compelled to move her to another school district which welcomed Wonder to the classroom, thereby allowing Ehlena to again interact with her peers. 

Meanwhile, the family sued the the district claiming that the school violated Ehlena’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying her equal access to school programs for several years.  However, both the US District Court and the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against them, siding with the school district which said that the family was required by law to first go through Due Process with the school district (this is also known as “exhaustion of administrative remedies”).  The family has appealed to the US Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court, although never compelled to hear a case just because it is appealed, has in fact agreed to hear the case.  This is one to watch…

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- Posted by Attorney Linda M. Gorczynski

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