The Sherrard Community School District was ordered to pay thousands of dollars in reimbursements to the family of a little girl who transferred to a private school after disputes over her service dog.
Jasper the service dog began accompanying Kellsey McGuire, who has epilepsy, as of January 2014. In the weeks that followed, unpleasant encounters between Jasper and one of Kellsey’s teachers, reportedly led to her family’s ultimate decision to move Kellsey to another school.
The McGuires filed a federal lawsuit in June 2014, alleging an art teacher who also trained service, therapy and facility dogs, had several confrontations with Jasper and Kellsey. The McGuires said the situation not only affected Kellsey personally, but that it created division within the staff and patrons of the school who either supported their position or that of the teacher involved.
District officials maintained nothing was ever done to prohibit Kellsey and Jasper from attending their school, and that they were not given enough opportunity to resolve the problem.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Board of Education also took up the matter at a due process hearing held in November 2014. Their decision was made Thursday, December 18.
The decision disagreed with the McGuire’s complaints alleging the district failed to provide an appropriate aide to Kellsey after Jasper began going to her school, and that the district did not reevaluate Kellsey for “assistive technology.”
The state’s Impartial Hearing Officer ruled in favor of the McGuires on their other two complaints, alleging a hostile environment at the school which interfered with Kellsey’s ability to get the education to which she was entitled.
The decision said the “administration of Sherrard behaved indifferently, unreasonably, and failed to take actions consistent with the requirements of Illinois Statutes and the courts,” in response to complaints made before Kellsey’s parents took her out of the district.
The school principal, and the teacher involved, had each resigned from the district, the decision said.
The decision supported the McGuire’s decision to take Kellsey out of the school and enroll her at Jordan Catholic School. The state ordered Sherrard schools to pay Kellsey’s tuition and transportation costs for her attendance at Jordan for the time she attended there in the spring 2014 semester and for the entire 2014-2015 school year. The reimbursements added up to more than $5,800 plus some costs that had not yet been determined.
Sherrard school officials were also ordered to work with Jordan staff to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to meet Kellsey’s future educational needs.
“While the litigation process is likely not concluded, this is an important step toward achieving justice not only for their daughter and Jasper, but for all children dealing with disabilities who seek unfettered public access with service animals,” said a statement from attorney John Doak, who represents the McGuire family.