Rochester, New York - The Justice Department announced Thursday that it reached an agreement with the Gates Chili Central School District in Rochester, New York, to resolve the department’s lawsuit alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The department’s complaint alleges that the school district denied a student with disabilities equal access to school by conditioning her use of a service dog on her parent providing a full-time dog handler, despite the student’s demonstrated ability to control and handle her service dog with minimal assistance and the service dog’s extensive training to serve and respond to the student and follow school routines. Ultimately, the family relocated to another school district where the child could exercise her right to use her service dog without unnecessary and discriminatory conditions. Since their move two years ago, the student has successfully acted as the handler of her service dog in her new school.
“For years, the school district in this case violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by limiting this child’s use of her service dog based on unfounded assumptions and generalizations about her disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “Families should not have to uproot their lives, disrupt their child’s education, move away from friends, and pay tens of thousands of dollars because a school district fails or refuses to respect the civil rights of children. Service animals today are trained to perform tasks that foster autonomy and independence for students with a myriad of disabilities. This agreement sends a powerful message that the Justice Department is committed to ensuring that no child with a disability is limited in what he or she can achieve because of the fears or prejudices of others.”
“The ADA guarantees individuals with disabilities equal access and equal opportunity in all areas of community life, including in schools,” said James P. Kennedy, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York. “This agreement is an important step forward in ensuring that students with disabilities can fully participate at school and in all educational programs.”
Under the settlement agreement, the school district revised its Service Animal Policy consistent with the ADA and the district court’s rulings in this case and will train staff on the revised policy. The school district also agreed to provide reasonable modifications to facilitate the use of a service dog by a student with a disability. Such modifications include the types of minimal assistance the school district refused to provide the student in this case, such as helping to tether or untether a service dog, assisting a student to get water for a service dog, and prompting a student to issue commands to a service dog. In addition, the school district will pay the student’s mother $42,000 for out-of-pocket expenses and damages for emotional distress. This matter was jointly litigated by the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York.
July 26, 2020 marked the 30th Anniversary of the ADA. The Justice Department plays a central role in advancing the nation’s goal of equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.