But first, a little backstory. A year ago my daughter got very sick due to complications from her medical condition. She ended up withdrawing from school and coming home to recover. She worked really hard to get well, then met with a variety of specialists to develop tools to manage her health while away at school. Part of this new strategy included her service dog. This is the third semester being together 24/7 in a college environment.
It’s not easy. He’s not a pet, he doesn’t get left home when it’s more convenient. He’s with her all the time doing his job. She has to make sure that he’s taken care of and the training is ongoing because there are constantly new situations.
The service dog has been in several lab-based classes, including those working directly with animals. He is well-trained and focused on his job. When a professor or TA has had questions or concerns, they have been easily resolved with a conversation. For example, once my daughter had a biology lab where the students walked from station to station for quizzes. The TA was worried the service dog might get stepped on or make the transition to lab stations challenging for my daughter or other students. My daughter came up with an easy fix: a foldable sideline chair for him to sit in where he was up and out of the way during the quiz. He was close enough to do his job, but out of the way of students as they moved from station to station.
Our perspective is that working together, there is always a solution.
After the events of my first post, a meeting was arranged between Disability Services, my daughter and the professor. The purpose was to discuss the law regarding service dogs and any concerns, then come up with an appropriate accommodation if needed. In that meeting the professor was very condescending, actually requesting an apology from my daughter to herself and the TA, stating she,”will not have drama in her classroom.”
Um…who’s causing the drama here?
After the Disability Advisor left, the professor questioned my daughter about what the service dog did for her. When my daughter explained his jobs, the professor mocked her, then said, “Hopefully you can grow from this and know that not everyone’s out to get you.”
That’s when my daughter got up and walked out of the room.
The professor followed up the conversation with her own version of an Action Plan that gave herself and the TA the right to excuse my daughter and service dog from class if they considered the service dog disruptive or creating a hazard. It put all of the power to decide squarely in the hands of the professor or TA in a very subjective way, but left no way out for my daughter. It basically signed away the rights as afforded by the ADA and created an environment of stress where my daughter would always be on guard, feeling that she could be excused at any time. After all, her service dog did nothing to initiate this entire series of events, it was his mere presence that the professor objected to.
And she showed no signs of backing down.
With the professor firmly dug into her position, and this being a small, researched-based class, it was clear that this would impact my daughter’s ability to learn and be fairly graded. So with the permission of her Department, her Academic Advisor offered a Directed Study for those credits. Although my daughter was very grateful to have an option, of course her first choice would haver been to take that class alongside her peers. This was the class that she had been most excited for and directly relates to her major. That opportunity was taken, all because the professor decided to not follow the law.
The next step was to file an official complaint with the University to make sure that this didn’t happen again – for my daughter and other students. It took awhile to figure out where she should file, but she was advised to file with the Dean of Faculties. She called the Dean’s office and was given an appointment within a couple of days. In that meeting my daughter told her story and was told that an investigatory panel would be initiated with the goal of a resolution within 30 days.
My daughter received a copy of her statement, but realized there were a couple of inaccuracies and she had forgotten to tell a couple of critical pieces. She wrote an addendum to the statement and submitted that to the investigatory committee. The professor was then notified.
As a parent, it was hard to witness all of this from a couple thousand miles away. The entire process was consuming for her; she had to miss a couple of classes and expended a lot of time and energy just trying to work this all out. The stress was starting to take its toll and beginning to complicate her medical condition. Feeling she was at a tipping point, I flew down for a few days to provide some support and see for myself how she was doing.
I found that my daughter was trying to move forward, but all of this was clearly a weight on her shoulders. My husband and I began to worry about her facing an investigatory panel by herself. That’s a pretty stressful thing for anyone, but a student so far from home with a condition that’s amplified by stress…we wanted to make sure that her voice was heard and also that she was protected. What if the professor lied and made things up about my daughter? We hired a lawyer to go with her.
Finding an ADA lawyer was no easy task. We called the Department of Justice, who referred us to their regional office. They great advice about the process, along with several resources. An advocate was supposed to call my daughter back, but never did. We’d also had a couple of personal referrals that didn’t work out. I started Googling lawyers in that college town, and found one with lots of great reviews. Although he did not practice that type of law, he provided a referral to someone who seemed the right fit.
My daughter is currently submitting her testimony to the inquiry panel alongside her lawyer. Then we wait for the decision and figure out what happens next.
From my daughter’s Facebook post after the conversation with her professor.
“(Edgy clothes because Halo and I have officially suited up for battle.)”
“We have been struggling with a professor and have been denied ability to go to two labs because of my condition. I contacted disability services and my advisor held a meeting with my professor and I to come to an agreement and express I am allowed full access to class. I had been publicly discriminated against in class by being singled out and told my dog is not allowed to be present and when I said that it is my legal right to have him at all times they said I would need to “figure something out.” At the meeting today the professor was extremely condescending and told me I needed to apologize for being defensive. I said I have nothing to apologize for.”
“At the end of the meeting my advisor left and I tried to downplay the situation and blow it off on my way out so we could move on and said this has happened before and I am not trying to be abrasive but I am standing up for my right to which the professor replied “well hopefully you can grow from this and know that not everyone’s out to get you.” (Who are you to tell me that)”
“I contacted my advisor and he said he was very disappointed in how she was patronizing and condescending to me during the meeting and instructed me to file a grievance not only with the university, but also with the US government.”
“I don’t want to take it this far but I am now fighting on behalf of myself, my boy, and anyone who relies on a service dog to survive in the future.”
“We are growing, and you’re not going to like it.”