WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that the Hillsboro, Oregon, School District will allow Jordan “Scooter” Givens to bring his trained autism service dog into his classroom in the Hillsboro School District.
The highly trained service dog, Madison, provides critical assistance to Scooter, recognizing when he is about to engage in behavior that might endanger him, and distracting him to obstruct this type of behavior. For nearly three years, Scooter’s parents’ efforts to get permission for Scooter to bring Madison to school had been rebuffed. After U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton and a senior attorney from the Civil Rights Division met in late January with the superintendent of the Hillsboro School District regarding the failure to accommodate the Givens’ request, the school district announced last Friday that it would allow Scooter to be accompanied by the service dog for a trial period.
The Department of Justice investigation resulted from a complaint filed with the department by Joel Greenberg, an attorney with Disability Rights of Oregon (DRO).
“Service animals assist students with disabilities across the United States every day of the school year without incident,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Fears, generalizations and stereotypes are simply insufficient to deny access to a student’s service dog, and the department will continue to provide school districts with technical assistance to make sure they comply with the ADA.”
“Kids with autism deserve the same opportunity as the rest of us to grow and learn,” said U.S. Attorney Holton. “Scooter’s service dog will help him grow up to meet his full potential – which is something we should all expect and hope for our children.” Holton praised the school district’s decision to engage in a trial period with the service dog: “The last thing we need is years of litigation, costing the people of Hillsboro hundreds of thousands of dollars – Scooter is growing up, and doesn’t have time for lawyers to wrangle.”
The specific terms and parameters of the assessment period are still being worked out, but the school board’s vote shows a good faith effort to voluntarily resolve this dispute without more formal action by the department.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires schools and other public entities and businesses to allow individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by service animals. Service animals cannot be denied access except for the rare instances in which their actual behavior poses a direct threat to the safety of others or results in a fundamental alteration of the nature of a program.
Service animals are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including individuals with neurological disabilities caused by autism. Because of a recent change in rules on service animals adopted by the Justice Department, beginning March 15, 2011, service animals will be limited to dogs. Service dogs perform a wide variety of functions. Examples of these functions include guiding persons who are blind or have low vision; alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds; warning persons about impending seizures or other medical conditions; performing a variety of tasks for persons with psychiatric disabilities, and picking up items, opening doors, flipping switches, providing physical support and pulling wheelchairs for individuals with mobility disabilities.
The case is being handled by Jeanine Worden, Deputy Chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrian Brown.
More information about the ADA, rights and responsibilities under the ADA relating to service animals, and instructions on filing an ADA complaint with the Justice Department is available at www.ada.gov . This information includes two publications specifically addressing service animal access: “ADA Business Brief: Service Animals” and “Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business.” Those interested in obtaining copies of these documents or additional information about the ADA can also call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).