Service Dogs in Schools: One Girl’s Fight For Change

by Nicole Gibbs

The Supreme Court heard a case earlier this week that might help to make significant changes in the restriction of service animals in schools. 12-year-old Ehlena Fry sat in the courtroom during the hearing, while her dog named Wonder waited patiently outside. 

Fry has cerebral palsy, a condition that severely limits her mobility and motor functions. According to this NPR story, her family helped her get the goldendoodle from fundraising $13,000, all based on a pediatrician’s advice that a service dog would help her become more independent. 

Wonder has helped Ehlena with things like opening doors, picking up items she drops, assistance with stability for things like transferring from her walker to a chair or toilet. 

Also on Z Living: The Many Special Benefits of Emotional Support Dogs

Despite its clear positive influence, Ehlena’s middle school has refused to let the dog do its job. Ehlena’s mother Stacy Fry told NPR that the school agreed to a 30-day trial with Wonder, but they didn’t allow him to assist Elhena with many tasks. He was not permitted to sit next to her in class and he was not allowed in the lunchroom. 

Apparently, school administrators even made Ehlena show them how Wonder helped her transfer to a toilet, an unnecessarily cruel event that she found quite upsetting. So the Fry’s pulled Ehlena out of that school, homeschooled her and then found her a school where her dog was welcomed and appreciated. 

Also on Z Living: Why Adopting an Adult Dog Might Be Right For You

They didn’t want to leave it at that though. With roughly 6 million students across the country who qualify for an individualized education plan, the Fry’s felt that it was their duty to push for changes. 

The Fry’s lost battles in lower courts, but, with ACLU representation, they decided to take  their case to the Supreme Court. During the hearing this recent Halloween, Ehlena listened to the hour-long debate and left feeling hopeful. “I think we will win,” she told USA Today.

A decision is expected this summer. 

What do you think? Should service dogs be allowed in schools? Comment below to share your thoughts! 

Watch on Z Living: Finding Fido, where photographer and animal behaviorist Seth Casteel hosts plays matchmaker each week between a person and a pooch. Finding Fido will premiere on Z Living in January 2017. 

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