Mickey Stewart of Redmond, Washington has acted as her son, J.T.’s in-school service dog handler for six years. Her position has always been voluntary and unpaid.
Now, the Lake Washington School District has suspended Stewart for a third time and ordered the family to pay for a professional handler for J.T.’s dog, Curly. In response, Stewart has filed a lawsuit against the district to appeal her suspension.
J.T. has autism and having Curly by his side at school helps him concentrate, according to his mother. As per the Americans with Disabilities Act, trained service dogs are to be permitted in all public places as long as they are “under control.” In the Stewarts’ case, this calls for Curly to be accompanied by a handler.
The district stated that they suspended Stewart’s handler privileges because her presence makes the school staff ‘nervous’, but the family believes it is their attempt to get the service dog out of Redmond High School.
J.T. is currently the only student in the Lake Washington School District utilizing his right to a service animal, but the Stewarts believe others would have them if the district would pay for a handler.
Most area residents can’t afford to have a family member act as a full-time handler to their child’s service animal. The Stewarts feel that the district’s refusal to foot the bill constitutes discrimination against those in need of dogs like Curly.
J.T.’s father serves on the Lake Washington School Board and feels the lawsuit is about more than just restoring his wife’s handler privileges. The couple also wants to make sure every parent has the same opportunity to provide a needed service for their child.
The Stewarts’ lawyer Kathy George says there is a simple solution:
“Which is the district should have a general policy of supporting these service dogs when they are needed and not making it so difficult.”
The Lake Washington School District released a written statement saying that federal privacy laws prevent them from commenting. Their website says it meets the needs of all of its students, including those who are disabled.
H/T & Featured Images via KIRO 7