'I was in the right' - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

'I was in the right'

With help from Office for Civil Rights, student, NIC iron out differences concerning his use of service dog in class

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Posted: Monday, July 1, 2013 12:00 am

POST FALLS — Tony Cruz feels vindicated, and hopeful that his decision last fall to file a complaint against North Idaho College will make it easier for other people with disabilities to attend the school.

In June, NIC entered into a voluntary resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in response to a complaint the 59-year-old Post Falls man filed last fall. Cruz alleged that college staff members’ handling of his request to bring a service dog to class violated federal laws that protect students with disabilities from discrimination.

While NIC has not admitted to any violations, nor has the Office for Civil Rights determined that any violations have occurred, the community college will be changing some of its written practices regarding the use of service animals.

“It shows I didn’t make this up,” Cruz said. “I was in the right.”

The agreement, signed on June 6 by NIC President Joe Dunlap, states that the Office for Civil Rights has discontinued its investigation of NIC, but that it will resume looking into the matter if the college fails to follow through with the terms of the agreement.

Cruz recently received a letter from the civil rights office advising him of the agreement with NIC and providing him with a copy of the document.

The letter, signed by Susan Read, a team leader in the federal agency’s office in Seattle, states that when fully implemented, the agreement will resolve the issues raised by Cruz’s complaint.

“OCR will monitor the college’s implementation of the agreement and notify you when the provisions of the agreement have been implemented,” the letter states. In addition to calling for the college to review and revise its written practices regarding the use of service animals, the agreement calls for certain staff members, including the college’s vice president of student services and dean of students, to receive training regarding disability discrimination and protections the laws afford students with disabilities, including those with service animals.

Cruz has been disabled most of his life, the result of heart problems caused by a bout of rheumatic fever. He has two mechanical heart valves and also has diabetes.

His dog, a yellow lab, is trained to assist Cruz when the man’s blood sugar level drops or if he needs assistance calling for help due to any other medical situation. The animal will retrieve and bring Cruz a pack containing emergency glucose and a cell phone the man can use to call for help. The dog retrieves other items for Cruz, when he needs them.

Cruz contends that last July he was registered for classes for the fall semester and had his financial aid approved. However, things became difficult when he went to the college’s Center for Educational Access to discuss accommodations for his disability.

“We started going back and forth with all this stuff,” he said.

Cruz said that after completing at least 10 forms and other paperwork, he was asked to provide a prescription for the service dog, although he already had one his physician filled out in 2009.

“My doctor said he didn’t know these things expired, but he gave me another one. He thought it was a really good idea for me to go back to school,” Cruz said.

Cruz said he was then told he couldn’t bring the service animal to class.

“That’s like telling me to leave my wheelchair at home,” he said.

He claims that when he tried to tell the people at NIC that their actions conflicted with sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, college staff members told him he was confused, that he didn’t understand what he was talking about.

Cruz contends that an employee at the Center for Educational Access said he was going to “advocate himself out of NIC.”

He said he did receive a call later from a college staff member, reversing her earlier denial of his use of the service dog.

Cruz said that by that time, he’d already been dropped from at least one class, and missed his first day of school. He withdrew from the rest of his classes to avoid complications from having received financial aid.

NIC issued the following statement regarding the situation:

“The College has reached an agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) regarding a recent complaint concerning the use of service animals and disability accommodation practices at the College. Pursuant to that agreement, OCR is terminating its investigation of the matter, and NIC will be working with OCR to review its service animal and accommodation practices to ensure these practices align with federal requirements. NIC has not admitted to any violations of federal law nor has OCR made a determination that any violation has occurred. NIC continues to provide timely and meaningful accommodations to persons with disabilities, including access to campus facilities by service animals.”

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  • local res posted at 10:03 pm on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    local res Posts: 1162

    You missed the first day of school and quit? Do you believe that you have the medical capacity to finish your degree program?

  • local res posted at 10:01 pm on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    local res Posts: 1162

    it may be an allergy to pet dander

  • local res posted at 9:59 pm on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    local res Posts: 1162

    Use your phone to either video or call the Humane Society and police if the dog is abused or left in the car.

  • Why Not posted at 12:57 pm on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    Why Not Posts: 4111

    Pooches are wonderful companions and service dogs have a place in our society. However the length of the service animal leash has gotten much too long. The abusers are getting anything registered and for all kinds of medical and physical anomalies. I even saw a flipping Chihuahua in the passenger cabin of an aircraft wearing a service dog vest - A flipping Chihuahua? Then there are the morons pinning fake vests on their critters. That's about as bad as the jokers who park in the handicapped spaces. You can't fault Mr. Cruz for anything other than exploiting his condition and seemingly being rather lazy at life.

  • Hardworker posted at 10:58 am on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    Hardworker Posts: 36

    Maybe he should go to washington then... and who cares.. read his Idaho repository..

  • xargaw posted at 10:32 am on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    xargaw Posts: 155

    The comments below demonstrate how many people are completely and utterly misinformed about the miracle of service animals and the value they provide. They are virtually canine caregivers allowing a person with disabilities to live an independent life. Today, there are dogs for diabetics, coronary patients, seizure patients, hearing disabled, people with balance problems, agoraphobia, sight, breathing disorders, and many other afflictions. There are specialized training facilities all across the nation that train these wonderful animals for multiple specialties and usually provide them free of charge to a person in need of one. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, these animals have all the same rights of access as a human being unless and until they display some kind of inappropriate behavior, just as a person acting up would be asked to leave some place. Under the law, they have the same rights to enter any place that a person does. To deny them access can result in a healthy fine from government agency overseeing the ADA. As a business, you are only entitled to ask the handler if the dog is a service dog, and that's where the conversation stops if the answer is "yes." I was stunned that the college administration was so ignorant of the law. I commend the gentleman for following through with his complaint. What he did took time and considerable effort, but it will ensure others will not be treated as ignorantly in the future. People with disabilities are already dealing with one problem, they don't need another obstacle added to their daily lives. In Washington, where I previously lived, they have a number of students in the high schools with service animals. How could NIC be so in the dark? As for people with allergies. They are generally just fine as long as they do not touch the animal or rub up against one. Sit across the room and you will be fine. If you are so allergic to dogs as you imply, you likely can't walk down the street in any town in America because a dog has been there or the people you meet may likely have hair or dander on their clothing from their own pets. Until you have seen one of these brilliant creatures in action when someone has a seizure or needs to take their meds to prevent a crisis, you really have no idea what a miracle they are. "Man's best friend" doesn't even begin to tell their story.

  • my own opinion posted at 10:15 am on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    my own opinion Posts: 397

    My cousin and her husband played students for years, They have progressed to nowhere. They are in their late 50's and are worth nothing on paper no home and lots of collections (they wont work) of course no student loans as all that money was well wasted on 2 minds that stick to lazy! mention it and they get all fired up with excuses. If the government wants to pay for people like this let them. Some people are like that.

  • mister d posted at 9:12 am on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    mister d Posts: 1531

    So which individual's rights to attend class will trump when my dog allergies conflict with his medical difficulties. I guess it would be too cumbersome for him to complete periodic blood sugar tests on himself like most others do to keep themselves safe.

  • SamuelStanding posted at 7:20 am on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    SamuelStanding Posts: 481

    I don't have a concern with people bettering theirself through education. I do have a valid concern for individuals taking advantage of a system, for tax payers to pay for their personal whims.
    This man frequents PEAK Fitness in CDA and I have personally seen the way he treats his service animal. The dog should be removed from this (in my opinion) moron. At times the dog is alone in the car, why? If your condition requires a response from an animal or aid for an ailment which you never know will attack, why is the animal left in a car, window rolled up?! His interaction with people is stand-offish and quite rude, not typical of the humble behavior of other individuals just happy to have a companion and service animal. I view this person as a spoiled, controlling little man with an ego larger than a vehicle. Shame on you Mr. Cruz

  • oldone posted at 6:18 am on Mon, Jul 1, 2013.

    oldone Posts: 52

    So he can carry his books, but not a cell phone or emergency glucose?
    What does he plan to do with his education if he is that physically limited? He's already 59, so how many years would he actually be in the workforce IF he decided to use it?
    It sounds like more tax money for someone that wants to "play" student!

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