Every dog has its day and that certainly rang true on Wednesday. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a 13-year-old Michigan girl with cerebral palsy who has spent years fighting for the right to bring her golden doodle service dog, Wonder, to class.
The unanimous 8-0 ruling concluded that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Ehlena Fry and her parents might not be forced to endure the lengthy administrative appeals process with the school district before pursuing her case in court.
Speaking on the ruling, Justice Elena Kagan said, “Exhausting the administrative process is not always required in such cases.” Also adding, “That further fact-finding is needed to decide whether Fry can pursue her case in court.
Lower courts had ruled against Fry, stating that she had to try to resolve her disagreement with the school district directly.
The dispute began in 2009 when Fry’s elementary school refused to allow her service dog to attend class with her, stating that she already had a human aide as part of her special education program. The family filed suit for discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows service dogs in public institutions. They claim that Wonder is essential for Ehlena’s limited mobility by assisting her with daily tasks such as opening doors, picking up items and helping her put her coat on and take it off. “I saw with my own eyes how Wonder helped my daughter grow more self-reliant and confident,” said Ehlena’s mother Stacy Fry.
Causing the conflict is the interaction of two federal disability laws — the Individuals with Disability Education Act and the ADA. The school district said it could deny the dog under the IDEA, which permits a teacher’s aide to assist students instead of a personal aide. That law requires families who challenge school decisions to first go through administrative procedures.
Advocacy groups hail the ruling as a milestone victory to protect disabled students under the American with Disabilities Act. “We’re thrilled that the Supreme Court has torn down unfair barriers faced by students who seek to vindicate their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan.
Battling the issue for more than two and a half years, the Fry family is thrilled with the Supreme Court’s ruling. “We are thankful that the Supreme Court has clarified that schools cannot treat children with disabilities differently or stand in the way of their desired independence,” said Stacy Fry in a statement.
See a video of Ehlena and Wonder below: