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Supreme Court sides with disabled girl in fight over service dog

Supreme Court sides with disabled girl in fight over service dog
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The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that the parents of a 12-year old girl can sue school officials for refusing to let their child bring a service dog to school.

The case centered on Ehlena Fry, identified only in court records as E.F., who was denied the right to bring her goldendoodle, named Wonder, to her school in Michigan.

Fry has cerebral palsy and needed the service dog to help her with daily activities, including retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights and taking her coat off.

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A lower court had said the parents needed to first exhaust all their state administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act. In effect, Fry's parents were told to resolve the issue with the school districts.

But the justices said Fry's parents could go ahead and sue the district for damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act, even if they had not gone through a complicated and lengthy administrative process.

“Exhaustion of the IDEA’s administrative procedures is unnecessary where the gravamen of the plaintiff’s suit is something other than the denial of the IDEA’s core guarantee of a FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education],” the court said in its decision.

In writing the court’s majority ruling, Justice Elena Kagan said Fry’s parents' lawsuit only alleges disability based discrimination. It makes no reference to the adequacy of special education services, allowing them to turn directly to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“[N]othing in the nature of the Frys’ suit suggests any implicit focus on the adequacy of E. F.’s education. Consider, as suggested above, that the Frys could have filed essentially the same complaint if a public library or theater had refused admittance to Wonder,” Kagan wrote.

The case was vacated and remanded back to the lower court to review the Frys' claims.