Students say service dogs not allowed in class picture

Published: Apr. 26, 2019 at 11:43 AM EDT
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Thursday, April 25, 2019

CNN -- Service animals are so much more than furry friends, they mean safety, independence, and reassurance.

Which is why two high schoolers in Texas were in disbelief when they say they were forced to make their dogs stand behind them during their class photo.

These pups may look cuddly and cute, but when their service vests go on, it's all business.

"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," said Erica Ray.

Erica Ray suffers from epileptic migraines, elevated heart rate, and absent seizures.

Her service dog "Groot" helps her with that, which is why she wasn't happy during the senior class photo at Magnolia West.

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

Having to move Groot from his normal post caused Erica to have anxiety, she says.

Leonna Smith, who has a service animal named "Aries" says she felt lightheaded.

"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," said Smith.

I reached out to the district about the picture and in a statement was told quote:

"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."

At a time where the girls should be thinking about next steps and celebrating commencement with their friends, they say they're worried about their ADA rights and if their animals are even welcome to join them across the stage.

"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," said Ray.

The girls will be allowed to walk with their dogs during graduation.

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