Supreme Court Backs Family in Case on Denial of Service Dog in School

February 23, 2017

On Wednesday, February 22, 2017, the Supreme Court issued a ruling finding that a family does not need to exhaust the due process provisions under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) if supports or services for a student with a disability are not directly connected to providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE). In an 8-0 ruling in the case of Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools found that a young girl with cerebral palsy who uses a service dog to assist her with her daily activities, did not complete the due process complaints provided under IDEA before suing the school system to allow her to bring her dog to school.

The Court found that IDEA due process procedures did not need to be exhausted before an individual files a suit charging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act). The Court's decision clarifies that because an alleged act of discrimination based on a student's disability takes place in a school that the protections of the ADA and the Rehab Act remain in place and are not superseded by the due process administrative provisions of IDEA.

In the case of Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, the student's assist dog was related to her ability to work, play, and interact in the school setting. The Court found that the dog was not related to the provision of her education under IDEA and that the due process provisions of IDEA did not need to be followed when alleging the school was discriminating against the girl because of her disability. In the opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, the Court stated the child could have filed a similar suit against a public library or a theater if she had been barred from entering their premises because of her service dog. The unanimous decision clarifies when the ADA and the Rehab Act apply to possible cases of discrimination in school.