Caleb Ciriacks is a 7-year-old severely autistic boy who for the most part doesn’t speak. He shrieks and paces when he gets anxious, and on occasion he pinches and scratches others. Eddy is Caleb’s service dog, tethered to the boy by a red strap. The dog keeps Caleb from running off into crowds or darting into traffic, and he knows to intervene when the boy starts to feel anxious.
When Caleb entered first grade last year, school officials in Cypress refused to let him take Eddy to school. Caleb’s parents sued in federal court, alleging that the district was discriminating against their son based on his disability.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in Santa Ana ruled that Frank Vessels Elementary School must let Caleb take Eddy to school and that the boy was probably a victim of discrimination. U.S. Department of Justice attorneys filed a “statement of interest” in the case, saying the school district was violating the boy’s civil rights and misinterpreting the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The district had argued in court papers that Eddy does not qualify as a service dog under federal statutes, and that his presence could disrupt school activities and be burdensome for staff. Attorneys for the school district also said the dog could undermine Caleb’s independence and self-control. A trial is expected next year.
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Author: Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
June 15, 2011