The Justice Department filed today a lawsuit against a public elementary school for refusing to permit a student with disabilities to attend school with a service dog unless accompanied by a separate handler provided by the student’s family. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Rochester, New York, alleges that the Gates-Chili Central School District violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This case involves a student whose service dog performs numerous tasks directly related to the student’s disabilities including alerting to oncoming seizures, preventing her from wandering or running away, and providing mobility support so she can walk independently. Due to her disabilities, the student needs periodic assistance during the school day in handling her service dog – primarily, tethering the dog and issuing limited verbal commands. Despite repeated requests, the district has refused to permit the student’s 1:1 aide – already provided by the district to assist with the student’s instruction and other needs during the school day due to her disabilities – or other staff to provide the student with this assistance.
“Individuals with disabilities are entitled to choose the manner in which they manage their disabilities so that they may live their lives with independence and autonomy,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “Honoring an individual’s choice to be accompanied by her service animal in all aspects of community life, including at school, promotes the ADA’s overarching goals of ensuring equal opportunity for, and full participation by, persons with disabilities.”
“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.”
Title II of the ADA mandates that no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity. The service animal provisions of the Title II regulation are a specific application of the regulation’s reasonable modifications requirement and provide that, generally, a public entity must modify its policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, subject to specific, enumerated exceptions.
The department’s complaint seeks to make the student and her parent whole, by requesting a declaratory judgment that the district violated the ADA; an order requiring the district to permit the student to act as the handler of her service dog with assistance from school staff; and compensatory damages for the student and her parent.
Individuals interested in finding out more about the ADA or this lawsuit may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD) or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov. Complaints of disability discrimination may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint/.