STATE OF NEW YORK FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT

DIVISION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

www.dhr.state.ny.us

MARCH 10, 2008

 

Contact: Thomas D. Shanahan

tshanahan@dhr.state.ny.us

Office (718) 741-3223

Cell (347) 431-8408

 

New York State Division of Human Rights Rules Against East Meadow School

District, Finding that Students with Disabilities Have an Absolute Right to

Attend School With Their Guide, Hearing, and Service Dogs

In the first decision on the subject, the Commissioner of the New York State

Division of Human Rights, Kumiki Gibson, issued a Final Order today,

concluding that the State's Human Rights Law grants students with

disabilities an absolute right to have their guide, hearing, and service

dogs in school with them. Specifically, the Commissioner found that the East

Meadow Union Free School District ("East Meadow") has violated and is

violating two separate provisions of the Human Rights Law -- one that

prohibits educational institutions from denying access to their facilities

to people with disabilities, and another that prohibits all entities covered

by the Law from discriminating against people with disabilities because of

their use of guide, hearing, and/or service dogs.

The Final Order was issued in a case commenced against the East Meadow,

which educates approximately 8,000 students in Long Island. East Meadow has

refused to recognize this civil right, adopting instead a policy that uses a

case-by-case analysis, based principally on the federal American with

Disabilities Act ("ADA"). East Meadow's policy led to at least one student

being denied access to his school with his service dog. That student had

sued East Meadow in a separate action. The case before the Division, in

which the Final Order was issued, was brought on behalf of all students with

disabilities in the East Meadow School District and vindicates the rights of

those students.

The Commissioner ordered East Meadow to immediately abolish its

discriminatory policy and practice and to permit all students access to

school grounds, facilities, classrooms, programs, and activities with their

guide, hearing, and service dogs. In doing so, she distinguished between the

broad and expansive protections for people with disabilities under the

State's Human Rights Law from the more restrictive ADA.

Upon issuing the Final Order, the Commissioner said: "If there were any

questions about the scope of our Law with respect to people with

disabilities, I hope that this Order will put them to rest: New Yorkers have

rights and protections under both the Federal ADA and the State's Human

Rights Law; the State's law is much broader than the ADA; and the Division

is committed fully to enforcing our great State law. And, I trust that our

educational institutions will be leading the charge in protecting the rights

of students with disabilities under our great law -- not blocking access to

classrooms, programs, and activities."

A copy of the full decision is available on the Division's website at

www.dhr.state.ny.us.