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Student With Autism Gains Legal Win To Use Service Dog

(June 26, 2014) -- A New Jersey school district that barred a student with autism from bringing his service dog to classes and after-school activities has agreed to reverse its policy under a settlement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). The school's ban was found to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“The old view of service animals working only as guide dogs for individuals who are blind has given way to a new generation of service animals trained to perform tasks that further autonomy and independence for individuals with a myriad of disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division will vigorously enforce the ADA to ensure that students who use service animals have a full and equal opportunity to participate in all school activities with their peers.”

Under the settlement, the Delran School District will adopt an ADA-compliant policy for service animals and train designated staff on the district’s obligations under the ADA, including requirements related to service dogs. The school district, which was credited with working with DoJ on reaching a settlement, will also pay the boy's family $10,000 in compensation.

In its civil rights investigation, the DoJ found that the boy's service dog alerts to the student’s seizures, provides mobility and body support, and mitigates symptoms of his autism. The dog was trained to prevent wandering, to disrupt stimming, and to apply deep pressure to prevent or limit meltdowns.

"The student’s mother spent six months responding to burdensome requests for information and documentation, and still the school district refused to allow the student to be accompanied by his service dog," the DoJ said in a statement about the settlement. "Despite her efforts, the student was even prevented from bringing his service dog with him on the bus for his school’s end of the year field trip. Instead, his mother followed the school bus with the service dog in her car."

Under the settlement, Delran was allowed to change its policies without admitting liability or wrong-doing.