The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday takes up the case of a girl, her service dog and a school that barred the dog from its premises.
Ehlena Fry, now 12, has been battling the court system since she was in Kindergarten. Fry has cerebral palsy, a condition that affects her physically but not mentally. She was given a human aide but wanted to bring her service dog, Wonder, into the classroom. Fry says Wonder gives her independence.
“He helped me with opening doors, closing doors, shutting off lights, the things I couldn’t do myself,” Fry said.
The school, after mediation, denied her request, citing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, saying they already paid for an aide, rendering the dog unnecessary.
Her mother says Wonder allows her daughter to do certain tasks, like going to the bathroom, with more dignity than an aide would. She wants her daughter “to be able to reach a level where she’s not reliant on other human beings to do what she can do herself.”
Both sides have agreed Ehlena was getting a quality education, so instead of going through the administrative process of the school system, the family sued.
The case is centered around Ehlena and her service dog Wonder, but more narrowly looks at how situations similar to hers should be handled.
“This is about when you are discriminated against in a school, do you leave your rights at the door,” said Supreme Court expert Amy Howe.
The justices must decide if people who feel they’ve been discriminated against inside a school but unrelated to their education can avoid administrative channels.
Families in similar situations gathered outside the Court in solidarity with the Fry family.
“It affects a lot of families across the country,” said mother Heather Lindgren. She is fighting for her autistic son Sutton to bring his dog, Thor to school. “We’ve just paving the road for others behind us.”
A decision is expected some time in 2017.