After school officials banned a disabled girl’s service dog, her parents decided to sue and now the case is in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Ehlena Fry of Napoleon, Michigan has cerebral palsy and relied on her service dog Wonder, a goldendoodle, to provide emotional and physical support.
But when her family wanted Wonder to accompany Ehlena to school, officials weren’t having it. Originally, they outright banned Wonder but they eventually caved a bit. But according to the Frys, the school put so many restrictions on what Wonder was able to do, it made it pointless for the dog to be there. For instance, the dog couldn’t be in the classroom or lunch room with Ehlena, her mother states. Also, after a 30-day trial period, the school said Wonder was not welcomed at the school.
In lieu of the service dog, the school, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), provided an adult aide to the girl and the person could do everything Wonder could do – but for Ehlena it wasn’t the same. The family argued the goldendoodle helped Ehlena be more, not less, independent.
The Frys fought, claiming under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that the school caused emotional distress. For one, Ehlena was humiliated after four adults had to watch her do a bathroom transfer with Wonder to see if the dog could indeed help her. Also, throughout the entire process there was animosity from school officials.
While the lower courts sided with the school, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case.
The main issue the Supreme Court will have to resolve is the correct process the Frys, and other families in the same situation, should pursue when taking legal action. Currently, families are supposedly not allowed to sue under the ADA, without going through a lengthy appeal process under the IDEA.
However, the Frys’ lawyer argues these are two different issues: The family isn’t suing for any educational needs, rather emotional, therefore going through IDEA would be pointless.
The decision could have implications for families all across the nation that have also had issues with how schools handle their service dogs. On the other hand, a ruling against the school in which families to not go through the lengthy process, could cost districts millions of dollars.
The ruling is set for June 2017.