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45 Years of Impact Spotlight

Advocating For Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in Schools

In 2021, DRP filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, successfully obtaining a mandatory preliminary injunction requiring that a school district (District) permit a high school student with disabilities to attend school with her service animal.  Although the service animal was individually trained to detect seizures, provide medical alerts and responses, provide mobility assistance, perform deep tissue therapy, and mitigate anxiety, the District had refused to allow the student to bring her service animal to school, preventing the student from being able to attend in-person classes with her peers.  The Court found that the student had established that she is likely to succeed on the merits of her claims and that the dog qualified as a service animal.  The Court further concluded that the student would suffer irreparable harm if the District was not compelled to allow her to bring her service animal to school, rejecting the District’s argument that any harm to the student was “self-inflicted” because she “chose” not to attend school by herself.  The Court emphasized that “any ‘choice’ that the student had to attend school without the service animal was illusory.”  The Court explained that if it “were to accept the District’s logic that [the student] will not suffer irreparable harm because she could either attend school without [the service animal] or take virtual courses, then no person suffering from a disability could ever prove irreparable harm by being turned away from a public entity if the entity offered access without the service animal or a virtual comparison.”   See also C.G. v. Saucon Valley School District, 571 F.Supp. 3d 430 (E.D. Pa. 2021).

In 2022, a student with disabilities which prevented her from bending, lifting, and performing other needed tasks, contacted DRP, after a school district denied her the right to bring her service animal to school. The student was unsuccessful in negotiating with the District, as missed school days continued to accumulate. After corresponding with the District, outlining the student’s right to a reasonable accommodation, and explaining the nature of the assistance the service dog provides to the student, DRP obtained a reasonable accommodation allowing the student to return to school with her service dog.

Also in 2022, a student with autism, mental illness and other disabilities contacted DRP after a school district refused to allow the student to attend in-person classes with her service animal because of its size.  DRP contacted the District’s legal counsel and negotiated an agreement allowing the student to attend the school in person with her service animal.