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Update: Federal Court Denies Gates-Chili District’s Request for Final Judgment Over Student’s Service Dog

By Staff

 

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(Update, Aug. 9) –   U.S. District Judge Charles J. Siragusa has denied a request from the Gates-Chili Central School District asking for a summary judgement, which would resolve the issue before trial, and disallow a student with disabilities to attend school with a service dog, unless accompanied by a separate handler provided by the student’s family.

In 2012, the district had prohibited any district staff members or aides from assisting with Devyn Pereira’s service dog, and instead required the Pereira family hire a handler for the animal, refusing to cover the cost of the aide.

Subsequenlty, Pereira’s family and the U.S. Department of Justice both filed lawsuits against the district, which allege the district has violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not allowing Devyn’s dog at school. The DOJ has also requested the district reimburse the Pereiras for over $25,000 in compensatory damages to pay for the dog’s handler.

According to Judge Siragusa, the district has failed to prove Devyn is unable to handle the service animal on her own, and without a dog handler as her family has claimed, and, therefore, its motion has been denied. 

“The court finds that summary judgment is precluded, since a material issue of fact exists as to whether D.P. [Devyn Pereira] can or cannot “handle” her service dog,” the judge wrote in his decision. “If Hannah is tethered to D.P., and the only assistance she needs is to untether her from the dog… D.P. can be considered to be in control of Hannah. On the other hand, if D.P. requires school district personnel to actually issue commands to Hannah, as opposed to occasionally reminding her to do so, then D.P. cannot be considered in control of her service dog. Accordingly, defendant’s motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 10, is denied.”

Gates-Chili district officials have yet to comment on the matter.

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(From September 29, 2015) – The U. S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the Gates-Chili Central School District for refusing to permit a student with disabilities to attend school with a service dog, unless accompanied by a separate handler provided by the student’s family, federal officials stated.

The lawsuit alleges the district has violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The case involves Devyn Pereira, a student whose service dog performs numerous tasks directly related to her disabilities, including alerting to oncoming seizures, preventing her from wandering or running away, and providing mobility support so she can walk independently, officials said.

In 2012, the school district had prohibited any district staff members or aides from assisting with Devyn’s service dog, and instead required the Pereira family hire a handler for the animal, refusing to cover the cost of the aide.

The Justice Department, along with New York State Education Department (NYSED), both had previously ordered the school district to reverse its policy, and pay $25,000 in compensatory damages to the Pereira family, or risk facing a lawsuit if it failed to do so.

“It is no longer acceptable – if ever it was – for a 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 statement.  “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.”

The department’s complaint seeks to request a declaratory judgment that the district violated the ADA; an order requiring the district to permit the student to act as the handler of her service dog with assistance from school staff; and compensatory damages for the student and her parent, the statement said.

The district was not immediately available for comment, however, in April, Gates-Chili officials said they would contest the Justice Department’s initial ruling regarding the service dog.

Individuals interested in finding out more about the ADA, or this lawsuit, may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line, at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.

In addition, complaints of disability discrimination may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint/.