School District Must Provide Employee to Help 6-year-old with Service Dog

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In  Alboniga ex rel. A.M. v. School Bd. of Broward County, Fla., 115 LRP 5982 (S.D. Fla. 02/10/15), a Florida school district refused to assist a 6 year-old boy with caring for his service dog at school. The service dog assisted the boy with detecting seizures. The district required the boy's parent to assist with the  handling the dog at school. The school district based its decision on a section of Title II of the ADA that states public entities are not responsible for "care and supervision of service animals." Moreover the school district required the family to maintain extra liability insurance for the dog and required the family to provide immunization to the dog beyond what Florida required.

The federal district court, however, ruled that the district's failure to provide an employee to assist with the dog in school was a failure to accommodate.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom observed that "in the vast majority of cases," permitting the use of a service animal is a reasonable accommodation. The fact that the child's teachers and paraprofessionals were able to detect and address his seizures had no bearing on the parent's wish to have the seizure-alert dog present in the classroom.

"[R]efusing [the parent's] requested accommodation if it is reasonable in favor of one the [district] prefers is akin to allowing the public entity to dictate the type of services a [person with a disability] needs in contravention of that person's own decision's regarding his own life and care," the Judge wrote.

Judge Bloom pointed out that the parent was not asking the district to walk the animal; rather, she wanted an employee to accompany her son outside so that he could take care of the dog. The court explained that the requested assistance was no different from having an employee help a child with diabetes use an insulin pump or helping a blind child to deploy a white cane. "[The district] is being asked to accommodate [the child], not to accommodate, or care for, [the dog]," the judge wrote.

Thus, the court required the district to provide an employee to assist the boy in providing routine care, such as feeding, watering and walking the dog. Finally, the court prohibited the district from requiring additional insurance and vaccinations.