Obama Administration Sues School Over Service Dog
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing an elementary school for allegedly barring a student with disabilities from bringing her service dog to class unless a handler comes too.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the Justice Department said that the Gates Chili Central School District in Rochester, N.Y. is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for “failing to reasonably modify its policies, practices or procedures” to allow a student known in court papers as D.P. to bring her service dog to school without conditions.
D.P. has Angelman syndrome, autism, epilepsy, asthma and hypotonia, according the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. The child’s service animal is trained to detect oncoming seizures and apply pressure to prevent or minimize meltdowns and stimming. In addition, the animal is trained to sit down to prevent D.P. from wandering, the lawsuit states.
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Though D.P. already has a one-to-one assisting her throughout the school day, the Justice Department said that the school district declined repeated requests for school staff to help accommodate the child’s service dog. Instead, the district allegedly would not allow the animal to attend unless accompanied by a full-time adult handler at the family’s expense.
“It is no longer acceptable — if ever it was — for a district to refuse reasonable modifications to a child who seeks to handle her own service dog,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. of the Western District of New York. “Certainly since passage of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990, such failure not only violates the dictates of conscience, it also violates the law. This office will simply not tolerate any discrimination against any person of any age who may happen to be affected by disabilities.”
Since 2012, D.P.’s mother has paid more than $25,000 for a handler to attend school with the child and her service dog, the lawsuit indicates.
The Justice Department is asking that the school district be ordered to allow D.P. to handle her service dog with assistance from school staff. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory damages for D.P. and her mother.
In a statement, the Gates Chili Central School District said “the district believes the lawsuit has no merit.”