Service Dog Allowed to Accompany Kindergartner to School, ACLU Announces

Napoleon, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan applauded the Napoleon Community Schools decision to permit a doctor-prescribed service dog to accompany a 6-year-old student with cerebral palsy. Following months of mediation, the district agreed to allow Ehlena Fry’s service dog, Wonder, in school beginning today.

“It’s a ‘Wonder-ful’ day for Ehlena and all children with disabilities who rely on service animals for their independence,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “Students with physical disabilities must have equal opportunities to both learn the three Rs and become self-sufficient. “

After reaching an agreement with the ACLU of Michigan, the school district sent letters to parents of Ezra Eby Elementary School students that Wonder will be attending classes. The letter announced that students will receive instruction on the proper procedures around Wonder. In addition, the school informed parents and students that Wonder is not a pet and should not be touched by anyone other than Ehlena and his handler.

“We are grateful that Wonder will be able to do his job by helping Ehlena grow more self reliant at school,” said Stacy Fry. “Ehlena’s growth with Wonder continues to amaze us on a daily basis at home. Allowing them to continue their work at school uninterrupted will help her become more confident and independent.”

In January, the ACLU of Michigan wrote a 4-page letter urging the district to respect Ehlena’s rights and allow her to bring Wonder to school. In addition, the ACLU warned that the district’s actions of barring Ehlena’s service dog violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The specifics of the agreement the district reached with the ACLU are confidential.

“We commend the district on taking this step and hope to continue working with school officials to ensure that all students’ rights are protected,” said Gayle Rosen, ACLU of Michigan cooperating attorney.

Because Ehlena has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a severe form of cerebral palsy that affects her legs, arms and body, she needs assistance with many of her daily tasks. In October 2009, Ehlena found the answer to her independence in Wonder, a specially trained, certified mobility assistance dog, who can help Ehlena retrieve items she drops, balance, open and close doors, turn on lights and many other mobility tasks. Wonder is also trained in seizure response. The Frys trained Wonder through donations from several community fundraisers. Since October, Wonder has been accompanying Ehlena to Sunday school, Girls Scout Daisy meetings, and other school and community functions without complaint and without distracting other participants. Wonder is hypo-allergenic and has been trained to get out of the way when he is not working.

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