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INDIANAPOLIS – No reasonable person would deny a child with a broken leg the use of crutches at school. But two Evansville students whose severe medical conditions require them to use service dogs are facing the choice of attending school or maintaining their physical safety and well-being.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of the two students in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is attempting to halt school policies passed this summer that have imposed unreasonable demands on disabled students and their families regarding the use of service animals. The lawsuit contends that the policies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
“M.T.” is a 16 year-old sophomore at Reitz High School who has severe diabetes that sometimes causes changes in blood sugar that can be life-threatening. Her service dog, Layla, alerts when these dramatic changes occur, keeping her from critical risk of serious injury or even death. Harrison High School sophomore “R.J.” has a rare mitochondrial disorder that causes seizures and prevents her from supporting her own weight without pain and discomfort. Her service dog, Diesel, is trained to support her with mobility and balance, and to keep her safe if a seizure occurs.
Rather than permitting the students to attend school with their service animals, the school corporation has instead required that a significant amount of documentation be provided two full weeks before the animals may accompany the students to school. The students and their families did not even learn of these requirements until the first day of school. The ACLU of Indiana lawsuit seeks to stop the enforcement of the policy and provide relief to the two students, who have suffered significant harm and distress by not being able to attend school with their animal helpers.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act requires schools and other public entities to accommodate people with disabilities and specifically forbids the type of unique burdens that are being placed on the students here,” said ACLU of Indiana Staff Attorney Gavin M. Rose.