Ehlena Fry has cerebral palsy. She was five years old when her doctor recommended she keep her service dog, Wonder, with her at all times, including during the school day. But the public school disagreed. They said a human aide could open doors, pick up items and perform other tasks for Ehlena while she was at school. The school refused to allow the dog in the building, and the family sued the school under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), not the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The ADA guarantees access to public spaces like schools and does not require exhaustion of administrative remedies before going to court. IDEA guarantees a free and public education and requires the family to exhaust all IDEA remedies before going to court. The school argued the family failed to do that under the IDEA. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the family argued their case was not about a free and public education. Rather, it was about ADA access to a public school.
Last week the United States Supreme Court ruled, 8 to 0, in favor of the family and their daughter and sent the case back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The lower court now has to determine whether the family’s claims could be raised “if the conduct had occurred in a public facility which was not a school,” and whether an adult with disabilities who was not a student could have “pressed the same grievance.” If the answer to both questions is yes, the family can bring an ADA lawsuit without having to exhaust administrative remedies. Ehlena, who is now 10 years-old, has been attending a different school that allows her to bring Wonder with her.