Service Dog Denied Entry Into Elementary School Heads to Supreme Court
Getting legal review of the US Supreme Court is not always guaranteed, nor an easy task. A Michigan family decided their plight was worth taking as far as they could, not necessarily for monetary retribution, but to ensure that others following in their footsteps don’t suffer discrimination.
Middle schooler Ehlena Fry was born with cerebral palsy. When she entered kindergarten, her pediatrician recommended a service dog for Ehlena to help her be more independent in school. Service dogs are not inexpensive and the Fry family’s friends worked together to help find Ehlena just the right dog–a hypoallergenic Goldendoodle they named Wonder.
The Fry family discussed Wonder with their local school, before she attended, but when it came time to go and bring Wonder with her, the school told her Wonder was not welcome. School officials told her that they were following the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by giving her an aide. Her parents argued that Wonder was not just for the things an aide would help with, but acted as a service dog might for a blind student to build independence. Ehlena’s parents replied that the dog was not part of their daughter’s education plan. He was intended to help her perform more functions by herself, to make her grow stronger and more independent.
As a trained service dog, Wonder was able to help Ehlena open and close doors, pick up items she dropped, and most important to her parents and physicians, act as a stabilizer so that she could move from a chair to a walker or a walker to a toilet seat. Wonder, they argued, was not just for school function, but life function, with the ultimate hope that perhaps an aide may not even be necessary.
After much back and forth, the school agreed to a 30-day trial with Wonder. But it was a little too little, too late for Stacy Fry, Ehlena’s mother, stating that the conditional reprieve was filled with animosity and subjected Ehlena to embarrassment and indignity. They chose to disenroll her from their local school and enroll her in a school in a nearby district, where Wonder was not only allowed, but embraced as a vital part of Ehlena’s life and the school community. Not only was Wonder a benefit for Ehlena, but a teaching tool for the other students as well.
The Frys sued their old district and want the US Supreme Court to lay as law of the land that it is not okay to discriminate against children who need qualified service animals at school. The school argues that there should have been more mediation at the state level, rather than the Frys taking it to federal court, but Ehlena’s mother says that this suit isn’t about money, but to create a path that ensures no other child needing a service dog has to go through what her daughter has.
The court is expected to rule by the summer of 2017, and we hope that the brave faces of Ehlena, now 12, and Wonder, now a family pet after seven years of hard work with his girl, are the new faces of equality and non-discrimination for all!
More by Lori Ennis