• School district suspends woman's service dog handler privileges

    By: KIRO 7 News Staff

    Updated:

    REDMOND, Wash. - The mother of a boy with disabilities has filed a lawsuit against the Lake Washington School District in an effort to appeal her suspension from acting as a voluntary, unpaid handler for her son's service dog. 

    Mickey Stewart says her son, J.T., needs a service dog to function properly, and that ADA allows for him to have one with a handler. The Lake Washington School District told Stewart the family would have to pay for a handler. 

    "It's what my kid needs,” she said. “I'm a Mom."


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    Stewart has acted as a voluntary, unpaid handler for her son's dog, and has gone to school with her son for six years. She said J.T. has autism and the dog helps him concentrate in class.

    The teen is the only student in the Lake Washington district with a service dog.   But his parents insist other disabled students would have them, too, if the district would pay for a handler.
    The Lake Washington School District has now suspended her handler privileges three times because they say she makes the school staff 'nervous'.

    Stewart has filed a lawsuit to appeal her suspension, and to also help other families who are unable to act a handler's for the child's service animal. 

    According to this lawsuit, the school district says having the boy's mother here is making the staff nervous. So they have said she has to stay away until after the first of the year.
    But the family believes the real goal is to get the service dog out of Redmond High School.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act allows trained service dogs in public places. But they must be kept under control. Stuart says the Lake Washington school district wouldn't pay for a handler, and she volunteered in 2011.

    "My guess is that no one suspected I would last this long," she said.

    On its website, the school district said it meets the needs of all of its students, including those who are disabled.

    The Stuarts insist they are discriminating against those who need a service dog, because most can't afford to provide the handling service for free.  The family's lawyer says there is a simple remedy.

    "Which is the district should have a general policy of supporting these service dogs when they are needed," said Kathy George, "and not making it so difficult."

    There's another reason for the lawsuit.  J.T.'s Dad is on the Lake Washington School Board. They said they want to make sure every parent has the same opportunity they do to provide a needed service for their child.

    The Lake Washington School District released a written statement saying that federal privacy laws prevent them from commenting.


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