Rush Henrietta School District denies student use of service dog in school

Posted at: 09/05/2013 4:07 PM
Updated at: 09/05/2013 5:32 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

When the doors open to Roth Middle School in Henrietta Friday, a student will try to go to school with her new service dog. The district says the dog is not allowed. The family says their daughter needs it and they already spent $20,000.
The student is a Type 1 Diabetic and her family says she needs the dog and being denied the dog in school is a violation of her rights. But the courts in New York have ruled that school districts have some leeway here.
Duke met his new friend, Madyson for the first time Thursday. Madyson's blood sugar levels fluctuate so much, she doesn't feel the highs or lows.
Keri Siragusa, Madyson's mother, said, “The dog will be able to sense these and pick them up and assure her to go check herself.”
Madyson swabs her fingers to mimic a high blood sugar level. When she comes back into the room, Duke smells it and reacts by pushing into Madyson and jumping on her.
But last week, the family got a letter from the Rush-Henrietta School District saying the dog can't come. The district says there is no medical support that says the dog is necessary and that it will be a distraction and problem for allergies. 
Lily Grace is the dog's trainer and runs the National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs. She says schools can't pick the type of treatment a child gets.
Lily Grace, National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs, said, “That's between her and her parents and her doctor. As far as the dog being in the school, that is protected under ADA law the school doesn't get to decide whether they can or cannot have the dog there.”
Five years ago, the State Division of Human Rights ruled schools cannot deny service dogs. That ruling was over turned by a state court. Districts are told to handle the issue case by case. This one lands on their front door Friday.
Siragusa said, “We're going to try to gain entry with the dog tomorrow at 8:45a.m. when school begins. Most likely they're going to have someone there to tell us we cannot bring him in. We will alert the authorities and make a report stating that they were not allowing her to bring her service dog to school.”
Madyson's mom says they never did get explicit permission from the district to bring the dog into school, but they bought the dog believing the law gives them the absolute right. 
The Rush-Henrietta released a statement saying, “The Rush-Henrietta Central School District makes every effort to remove barriers so students can participate fully in our educational programs. In a case where a service animal is deemed necessary for a student to attend school, accommodations would be made.

The New York State Association of School Attorneys instructs school districts to examine on a case-by-case basis whether a student will receive a free appropriate public education if a service dog is not allowed at school. After this specific request was made, the district consulted with medical professionals who advised us the service animal is not medically necessary. The district denied a request for a dog trained to monitor blood glucose levels.

The New York State Association of School Attorneys also tells districts to “consider the effects that the service animals will have on others, as well as the effects on the school environment as a whole.” We know some students who are fond of animals will find the dog to be an attractive distraction. For others, the dog may trigger anxiety, distress, or allergies. The district has determined that the family’s wish to have a dog accompany their student does not justify the inevitable disruption to the school environment.

We are confident our student will continue to receive a free appropriate public education without the aid of a dog, and we know she will be well cared for by our staff. Our schools are staffed by a school nurse and supported by a district nurse practitioner. They use long-established, well-tested protocols – including the prudent monitoring of blood glucose levels – to safeguard the health and well being of students. The presence of a service animal trained to monitor these levels is redundant.

Because the family has indicated it intends to litigate this issue, the district can have no further comment.”