Unanimous Supreme Court Decision Supports Right to Bring Service Animal to School
For Immediate Release
February 23, 2017
WASHINGTON – On February 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the Fry family in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools. The case began when the Napoleon Community School district refused to allow Ehlena Fry to bring her service animal, Wonder, with her to school. Ehlena has cerebral palsy and Wonder assists her with certain activities, such as opening doors.
The family won a victory with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which found that the school’s refusal violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. When the family sued to recover damages for the emotional trauma Ehlena suffered while being without Wonder, the lower courts determined that they would first have to pursue pointless administrative proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In ruling for the Frys, the Court held that families that face discrimination in school do not have to first go through the IDEA’s administrative procedures; they can go directly to court.
The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) joined with the protection and advocacy agencies in New York and Illinois, as well as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to write an amicus brief in support of the Fry family. The amicus showed how the type of discrimination faced by the Frys is all too common in our nation’s schools and families should not be required to face a needless hurdle when facing discrimination.
Curt Decker, NDRN’s executive director, stated: “This entire case could have been avoided if the school district had simply let Ehlena bring Wonder to school with her. Let this decision send a strong message to school districts across the country. When they discriminate against students with disabilities, there will be consequences.”
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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.