Obama Administration Sues School On Behalf Of Girl And Her Service Dog
A little girl and her faithful service dog, who've been at the center of a legal dispute with the girl's local school district, just gained a powerful ally in their fight to stay together.
Devyn Pereira, a 7-year-old from Rochester, New York, has Angelman Syndrome, a genetic disorder that manifests as extreme cases of both autism and epilepsy. Due to the condition, Pereira requires the assistance of her life-saving service dog, named Hannah. The fluffy white pup not only helps Pereira walk and stay focused on learning, she's trained to detect when the girl's about to have a seizure.
Despite the crucial role Hannah plays in Pereira's education, officials from the Gates Chili Central School District, where Pereira attends a special class, have put up roadblocks to keep the dog away. In order for Hannah to be at the school, the district says her family has to pay for a full-time handler to accompany them, and that Pereira's school aide can't help with the dog.
For the last three years, the Pereiras have made repeated requests that the district's policy be changed, but to no avail. The family has since paid more than $25,000 for the handler, all so that a little girl and her dog could stay together.
But now the Pereiras aren't alone in their fight.
"It is no longer acceptable – if ever it was – for a [school] district to refuse reasonable modifications to a child who seeks to handle her own service dog," said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. in a press release. "Certainly since passage of the American With Disabilities Act in 1990, such failure not only violates the dictates of conscience, it also violates the law. This office will simply not tolerate any discrimination against any person of any age who may happen to be affected by disabilities."
If the DOJ's suit is successful, Pereira will be allowed to act as Hannah's handler with some assistance from school staff; The district will also be required to compensate the Pereira family for handler fees they have incurred.
"Devyn can no longer be denied the help she needs to use her service dog at school," the Pereiras wrote online. "Our victory is not only for Devyn, but for all the families facing similar injustices."