Duly Noted

ACLU contends school district discriminated against girl, service dog

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has filed a federal lawsuit against the Napoleon School District and the Jackson Co. Intermediate School District on behalf of an eight-year-old student with cerebral palsy who was barred from bringing to school her doctor-prescribed service dog, for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). |

Because Ehlena Fry has a severe form of cerebral palsy, she needs assistance with many daily tasks. In Oct. 2009, Ehlena’s family took a major step to help Ehlena become independent when they acquired Wonder, a dog specially trained to help Ehlena balance, retrieve dropped items, open and close doors, turn on lights and perform many other tasks. Wonder is hypoallergenic and has been trained to stay out of the way when he is not working.

Before registering Ehlena, the Frys advised the school of their decision to acquire a service dog for her. The community helped raise the necessary funds. However, after Wonder was trained and returned to Michigan, the district barred Ehlena from bringing Wonder to school. The ACLU of Michigan intervened, sending a letter to the district warning that the district’s actions violate the ADA.

In April 2010, after months of mediation, Ehlena’s school district agreed to allow Wonder to accompany her at school for a “trial period.” Wonder was required to remain in the back of the room during class and was not allowed to accompany Ehlena during recess, lunch,  and other activities. At the end of the school year, the district would not acknowledge that Wonder was a service dog, and would not discuss whether they would agree to his return in the Fall.

With the help of the ACLU, the Frys filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the United States Dept. of Education. In May 2012, the OCR issued a finding that the school district violated Ehlena’s rights under the ADA. The school district then reluctantly agreed to allow Ehlena to attend school with Wonder, but Ehlena’s parents continued to have serious concerns about the school’s attitude. Therefore, the Frys enrolled Ehlena in a public school in Washtenaw County where the staff welcomed Ehlena and Wonder and saw their presence as an opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion of students with disabilities within the school.

To read the complaint, download photos and watch a video of Ehlena and her service dog at: http://www.aclumich.org/ehlena

 Read the legal complaint at http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/FryComplaint.pdf

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