As of noon today, more than 13,000 people had signed a petition started by a Gates family who are in a battle with the Gates Chili School District over how to accommodate a second grader's service dog.
Seven-year old Devyn Pereria suffers from a rare genetic condition that involves a form of Autism and Epilepsy. Her mother, Heather, said despite some severe physical disabilities, Devyn has gained a certain amount of autonomy thanks to her service dog.
"If the teacher says, 'We're going to the gym,' the dog stands up. Devyn stands up because her dog did, holds onto the harness and they move to the gym,” Pereira said. “If the teacher flashes the light because it's time to line up, the dog has learned what that means and will stand up and Devyn follows her lead."
Pereira said several years ago, the Gates Chili School District changed her daughter's individualized education plan without notice as Devyn transitioned from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten. She believes the district is “hung up” on a statement in the Americans With Disabilities Act that says it is a parent’s responsibility to care for a service dog if a child cannot.
"What Gates has failed to acknowledge in all of this is that the school acts in place of the parent all day long,” Pereira said. “So the fact that that's their argument wouldn't hold up in court. That's why the Department of Justice has opened our complaint. That's why the Department of Justice has investigated them for over a year."
Pereira says she has been forced her to hire an aide to go to her daughter’s classroom every day to help handle the dog.
"I've gone to dozens of meetings that their lawyer has gone to that the taxpayers are paying the lawyer to be there. I have gotten my own lawyer. I have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice. I've tried to jump through every hoop and legally do everything I can do and at the end of the day, Gates hasn't been moved to change their stance back to our original plan."
Pereira said the next step would be a federal lawsuit. She's hoping to resolve the matter before that happens.
The Gates Chili School District released the following statement:
The Gates Chili Central School District complies with all ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Service Dog Regulations. The student has been accompanied at school by a service dog for quite some time, and the District welcomes the service dog for as long as the student chooses to elect to utilize a service dog under the rights provided in the ADA Service Dog Regulations. The District cannot comment on the specifics of cases involving individual students, but the District reaffirms its welcoming of service dogs in accordance with the rights in the ADA. The District has responded appropriately to the DOJ procedure that the parent initiated.