For several years, 7-year-old Devyn Pereira has relied on her service dog, Hannah, to get her through the day. However, Devyn’s school district has made it extremely difficult for Hannah to accompany her to school. Her family has been in a legal dispute with the school in order to keep the two together and they now have a powerful new ally – the U.S. Department of Justice.
Devyn has Angelman Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes both autism and epilepsy. Hannah has been her life-saver. Not only does Hannah help Devyn walk independently and stay focused at school, the dog helps detect when Devyn is about to have a seizure.
However, the family has been facing ongoing resistance from school officials from the Gates Chili Central School District, who have continued to insist the family pay for a full-time handler to accompany Devyn and Hanna to school and insist that Devyn’s school aide in her special class cannot assist her with the dog. The assistance Devyn needs is primarily tethering the dog and issuing limited verbal commands.
The special rules have cost the family upwards of $25,000 for the handler. For the past three years the Pereira family have fought the school district in court, and now they have received support from the federal government.
The Obama Administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that they are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
“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, Devyn will be allowed to act as Hannah’s handler with assistance from school staff. The district will also be required to pay compensatory damages for the family.
“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.”
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