WASHINGTON, D.C. (WATE) – A decision by the Department of Justice is changing how school districts accommodate service dogs.

On Monday, a family won their lawsuit against the Gates-Chili Central School District in New York. The school system refused to allow a student to bring her service dog to school unless she had a full-time handler. The decision forces school systems to help children and their service dogs move through hallways, attach a harness, and assist with basic commands.

Wilderwood Service Dogs, in Maryville said they have had a big interest in the case and they are pleased with the outcome. “You must accommodate, you must allow access. The federal law states it and the ADA and now the federal justice department covers it in the school districts and that’s a huge win for us,” said Tiffany Denyer, Director of Wilderwood Service Dogs.

April Thomas live in Montgomery, Alabama, but bought her service dog through Wilderwood Service Dogs. Her 10-year-old son has autism. “He’s a specific, special little boy with all of his issues, so you couldn’t pick just one dog. It had to be a special dog,” said Thomas.

Thomas said she has not had an easy time with the school system lately. In January, she got a German Shepard service dog named Chloe from Wilderwood.

“When you have a child with autism, there’s so many issues and that dog could alleviate it and make his quality of life better, but then you’re hit with a system that’s not going to allow that, it breaks your heart is what it does,” said Thomas.

Like others across the country, some school districts are requiring that children with service dogs have full-time handlers. Thomas said that’s an added cost she can’t afford after spending thousands on a service dog. However, the decision by the Department of Justice will change that.

WATE 6 On Your Side checked the Knox County Schools policy for service animals and it read:

“The Knox County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of disability, and complies with all state and federal laws, regulations, and rules regarding the use of service animals by students with disabilities under appropriate circumstances.”

More online:Knox County Board of Education’s Policy on Service Animals