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Court Finds Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies Was Required in Service Animal Case

By on October 27, 2017 in Students with 1 Comment

By: Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq.
Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

A District Court in New Hampshire recently ruled that the parents of an 8-year-old boy who uses a service animal could not bring forth claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against a school district because the parents failed to first exhaust their administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”).

In A.R. v. Sch. Admin. Unit #23, No. 15-CV-152-SM, 2017 WL 4621587 (D.N.H. Oct. 12, 2017), the student in question suffered from a seizure disorder, developmental delay, hypotonia, hearing loss, dysphagia, and cortical blindness. A.R. was eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA and received an individualized education plan (“IEP”). Through the IEP, A.R. received services from a special education teacher, teacher of the deaf, and teacher of the visually impaired. He also received speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. Moreover, he received the services of a one-to-one aide.

The parents wished to have A.R. accompanied to school by Carina, a multipurpose service animal, who is trained to detect seizures by licking A.R.’s face. Although Carina was trained to make it through the school day without needing to be walked, eat, or taken outside to go to the bathroom, she still required a service animal handler during the school day, as A.R.’s cognitive, sensory and physical limitations prevented him from acting as Carina’s handler. On this basis, A.R.’s parents requested that the school district hire, train, and pay for a handler for Carina. When the school district refused, the parents filed a federal lawsuit against the district alleging that the district discriminated against their son by failing to provide support services that were needed for the service animal to attend school. The parents did not first initiate an administrative due process petition under the IDEA against the school district.

The District Court Judge in this case based his decision on the recent, and highly publicized, United States Supreme Court ruling of Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, holding that the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement applies to all non-IDEA claims that involve an alleged denial of a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”). Although the parents were not challenging A.R.’s educational services, they were challenging the district’s obligation to provide support services required for Carina to attend school with A.R. The Judge stated:

Here, however, plaintiffs are not complaining that the District is discriminating against A.R. on the basis of his disability by refusing him access when accompanied by his service dog. Instead, the crux of plaintiffs’ complaint is that the District discriminates against A.R. by refusing to pay for and provide a handler for Carina. So, plaintiffs are not merely asking that the District allow A.R. to be accompanied by his service dog while he is at school. Instead, plaintiffs want the District to hire, train and pay for a handler for Carina.

Because the parents were actually challenging the school district’s alleged failure to provide additional support services in hiring, training, and paying for a handler for the service animal, the Judge determined that their Section 504 and Title II claims sought relief from an alleged denial of FAPE to A.R. Therefore, they were required to first exhaust their administrative remedies under the IDEA prior to initiating their lawsuit for disability discrimination.

For more information regarding service animals in schools and exhaustion of administrative remedies, please see our previous articles:

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Lauren E. Tedesco

About the Author

About the Author:

Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq. focuses her practice in the representation of public and private sector employers in the areas of labor and employment, school law (including special education) and civil rights law matters. Ms. Tedesco is admitted to practice in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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There is 1 Brilliant Comment

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  1. Lauren, A very interesting article about how school districts try to make their dollars stretch to help everyone.

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