Many of you have heard me make the observation that in special education litigation, courts are always assessing the “reasonableness” of the parties. I recently came across a ruling by the Department of Justice that provides a good example of a situation where it appears that the school district came across as the unreasonable party, even though the school was applying the law exactly as it is written.
The ruling arose in an investigation by the Department of Justice regarding a school district’s refusal to allow a student to bring a service dog to school unless the parent provided an adult handler for the dog. The DOJ found the school in violation of the ADA and ordered it to modify its policies and practices to permit the student to use the dog, even though it would require some minimal assistance from school staff.
This report includes a detailed analysis of the facts. The dog required minimal attention and the child already had a 1:1 aide accompanying her all day long who could assist with the dog. There was no question that the dog was helpful, including detecting seizures in advance. Significantly, the child had had the dog with her at school for four years without incident. In pre-school, the dog accompanied the child without an adult handler. When the child went to kindergarten, the district insisted that the parent must provide a handler. The federal regulations require that the person who needs the service animal must be able to “handle” the animal. Since this child was unable to do that independently, the school asserted that the parent had to pay for an adult to handle the dog. Given all of the facts, however, the DOJ concluded that the ADA requires the district to allow the dog to accompany the child without a separate adult handler.
It’s dangerous for a district to discontinue providing an accommodation unless there is an obvious reason for the change. The ruling came in Re: Gates-Chili Central School District, 65 IDELR 152 (DOJ, 2015).
DAWG BONE: THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU DISCONTINUE AN ACCOMMODATION THAT HAS BEEN PROVIDED.