Parents believe school’s non-allowance of service animal violates ADA

The parents of a 4-year-old disabled boy who uses the assistance of a service animal have filed a lawsuit against a school district in North Carolina that will not allow the young student to bring his service animal to class. The parents of the 4-year-old say their son cannot learn without the service dog’s help and claim in the suit that preventing the dog from attending school with their son is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 4-year-old boy has fetal alcohol syndrome and the disease causes the boy to have tantrums. The boy’s service animal, a Golden Retriever-poodle mix, is trained to help the boy with his tantrums and to prevent the boy from hurting himself. Service dogs are increasingly used to help people with autism and people with other psychological disorders. Generally, service animals are allowed at schools but school officials have concern whether the 4-year-old can properly manage the dog in the classroom.

The 4-year-old was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and was adopted by his parents at 8 months old. Because of his condition the young boy has obsessive-compulsive tendencies and is hyperactive. The 4-year-old also experiences “meltdowns” when he is overstimulated. Experiences or things that are foreign like a stranger’s compliment or a store’s automatic doors can cause a meltdown. Because of the threat of meltdowns, the boy was forced to stay home unless he went to the doctor or therapy. When the service dog came into the boy’s life in September 2009, the number of meltdowns decreased and he was able to sleep through the night.

The boy’s symptoms improved so dramatically that his parents believed he was ready for public school. In 2010 the family enrolled the boy in a pre-kindergarten class but the school informed the family that the service dog would have to stay behind. The boy’s parents and the school met multiple times but were not able to find agreement. The family’s lawsuit asks for the dog to be allowed in the classroom and payment to maintain the dog’s training.

Source: The Bellingham Herald, “Parents of disabled boy sue, want school district to allow service dog,” Clever R. Wootson Jr., 3/14/11

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