The Supreme Court delivered a major victory to Disability rights advocates this week. They unanimously ruled that a student suing her former Michigan school for not letting her bring her service dog into the building can possibly sue on the grounds that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Wonder goes to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court case concerned a girl named Ehlena Fry.

Fry had cerebral palsy and at the time needed her doctor-prescribed service dog, Wonder, for assistance with certain tasks, like opening doors.However, her school district, Napoleon Community Schools, said that she didn't need the dog because the school would provide an aide to help her with the tasks that Wonder helped her with. This was unacceptable to the Fry family and tried to get the school to let Wonder in.

Under the law, businesses and government buildings are supposed to leave service dogs alone as long as they aren't being unruly. The school's attempt at compromise resulted in Fry being separated from Wonder for long periods of time, including times when she was most likely to need her. The school ended up abandoning the compromise and told the parents their daughter could not bring the service dog back.

They changed to a school that welcomed Wonder, even going so far as to give her a staff badge. However, her parents still thought what Napoleon Community Schools broke the law and proceeded to sue the school for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The school, backed by the National School Boards Association, argued that the Fry family couldn't sue under the ADA and had to exhaust all the options under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

However, the options under this act are much more time-consuming. Advocates say they often stack the deck in favor of the school. The school board further argued that they met their obligation under both laws by allowing an aide rather than the dog. The family argued that because they were suing about an access issue rather than an educational issue, they could use the former law. The lower courts disagreed so the family, backed by the ACLU and a number of other organizations, appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's unanimous verdict

The Supreme Court ruled against the school in an 8-0 decision Justice Kagan wrote the opinion. In her opinion, she said that the family could possibly sue under the ADA. In her opinion, she cited the example of a hypothetical kid suing a school for not having a wheelchair ramp. She said that because the issue involved accessibility to the school and the possibility of discrimination, rather than an issue with an educational plan, it was possible that the family could sue for ADA violations.

She also criticized the school's idea of providing an aide in lieu of the service dog. She compared the compromise to having someone carry a student in a wheelchair upstairs in lieu of building an actual wheelchair ramp. The court sent the case back down to the lower court for further review. The lower court could conceivably find in favor of the school. However, the family may have a better chance since the court ruled so strongly.

Since the lawsuit started a couple of years ago, Ehlena Fry has become more independent. Her body and coordination are much better now thanks to therapy. She now uses Wonder mainly as a pet. She is glad that the court ruled the way it way it did. However, her adversaries at the National School Boards Association see it differently. They believe it is better that parents use remedies under IDEA, claiming that those remedies are easier and less expensive for parents than ADA-based lawsuits.

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