The Sherrard Community Unit School District 200, based in Rock Island and Mercer counties in the northwestern part of Illinois, has appealed a ruling from an Illinois State Board of Education hearing officer who said its schools must allow a student with epilepsy to be accomanied by a service dog in school, WQAD News 8 reports.
In response to a complaint filed by the student’s parents, Colin and Brandi McGuire, the ISBE hearing officer found that the Sherrard district had shown “unreasonableness and indifference” toward the student and had created a “hostile environment” for her at the school. They accused the school district of violating their daughter’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act by not allowing her to come to school with her service dog.
The district’s superintendent, quoted second-hand by the news station, contends the district did nothing wrong and that the ISBE hearing officer erred in his ruling.
If the district loses the appeal, it’s possible the schools will be on the hook for legal fees paid by the McGuires, leading Ms McGuire to say the whole appeal is a waste of time and money.
“It’s a huge waste of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “You’re talking they’ve spent $100,000 so far, another $100,000 when this is all said and done? For what?”
According to Ms McGuire, she and her husband have already paid $60,000 in legal fees.
The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to all 50 states, of course, and there’s some case precedent that sheds a favorable light on the McGuires’ claim. A federal district court in Florida ruled in February that Title II of the ADA, which the US Department of Justice has said permits a disabled student to be accompanied by a service animal at school, can be enforced.
The court ruled that the board had failed to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled students, because the board’s policies didn’t allow for service dogs in the school.
The case is Alboniga v. Sch. Bd. of Broward Cnty.:
In raising this challenge, the School Board fundamentally misunderstands the Title II regulation. A product of the [Justice] Department’s thorough and considered evaluation of how best to implement the ADA’s objective of eliminating all forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities, the regulation establishes that public entities “[g]enerally” must permit individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals. …
Consistent with the ADA’s goals of integrating persons with disabilities and respecting their autonomy and self-determination, this regulatory framework furthers Congress’s intent that individuals with disabilities not be separated from their service animals, while simultaneously ensuring that public entities, such as the School Board, can exclude service animals when appropriate.
That is, school districts may disallow service animals if it is appropriate to do so. It’s hard to argue that schools don’t have at least some rights in these cases.
But, schools should maintain a written policy that generally allows service animals and they must provide students with disabilities a good and documented reason why a service animal would be prohibited in specific situations, if any such circumstances exist.