Students say their service dogs weren't allowed in school pictures: 'If I'm a senior, he's a senior'

Hope Schreiber
·Writer

Two high school seniors in Texas were upset after their principal reportedly told them to remove their service dogs from their school pictures.

Erica Ray, who is a student at Magnolia West High School in Magnolia, Texas, experiences epileptic migraines, elevated heart rate and petit mal seizures. Her service animal, Groot, is trained to know when she needs help.

"He will boot my knee or my thigh to alert me when things are about to happen, so that way I can get the help that I need," Ray told San Antonio news station WOIA-TV.

But when it was time to take her senior picture, Ray felt like Groot was slighted.

"The photographer... had us sit on the front on a wooden bench and we had our dogs in front of us, laying down," Ray told the news station. "They weren't doing anything bad... Then the principal, Dr. King, walked up to us and said, 'Put your dogs behind you.'"

Service dogs provide a multitude of benefits to their handlers. Not only do they help keep a person safe, but their presence allows people with disabilities to perform everyday tasks, ensuring their independence. While the Americans with Disabilities Act became a law in 1990, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, and ensuring that service animals are permitted to accompany their handler in any public place, including schools, there are many instances where a person's rights are questioned or barred.

And, while service animals may look like your pet at home, they are performing an important job.

Not having Groot nearby caused Ray to have anxiety. Similarly, Leonna Smith's service dog, Aries, was told to sit behind her during the photo and she experienced lightheadedness.

"I plan on pursuing this farther and seeing what can change and what can be done because this isn't something that should have ever happened," Smith told WOIA-TV.

"It really gets my blood boiling because he's been with me for two years and they count service animals and handlers as a team, so for me, me and Groot are one. So if I'm a senior, he's a senior." Ray added.

Neither Magnolia West High School Principal Dr. Ben King nor a representative for Magnolia Independent School District immediately responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.

However, the school district provided the following statement to WOIA-TV: "Magnolia ISD is committed to high quality education programs including supports and services that allow all students to maximize their learning achievement. The district is dedicated to meeting the educational needs of all students and at no time were the girls' educational accommodations violated."

According to the outlet, the girls will be allowed to walk with their service animals at graduation.

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