KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo Public Schools is once again the target of a legal matter. A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School filed a complaint against the district with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming KPS administrators did nothing after she and her service dog were bullied.
In the fall of 2021, Alyssa Douglas was diagnosed with dyslexia, as well as high anxiety and depression. She relies on her owner-trained service dog, Moxi, a German Shepherd mix. From the day she met him in summer 2022, Douglas said he is a lifesaver.
“We spent five minutes with him and I’m like, ‘Yep.’ There is something that just clicked,” Douglas said. “And he has been amazing since.”
While by her side at school, Douglas said Moxi helps her curb panic attacks and calm an overwhelming mind — a test he passed with flying colors since her first episode.
“Oxygen levels just plummeted, and my heart rate skyrocketed … it hits around 180 (beats per minute) so often. I noticed I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s not normal,'” Douglas explained. “But he helps me a lot with that. He’s very in tune in my emotions. When I’m stressed, he lets me know.”
But Oct. 10, both of them were more than overwhelmed when a group of boys at her school would not stop harassing them.
“(Moxi) was just lying there against the locker, so not in the middle of the hallway or anything. A student ran up and jumped in the air with both feet and landed on his tail. Since the way he was curled up, it was inches away from his neck,” Douglas said.
She immediately filed a report with the assistant principal in charge of security. But instead of disciplining the students, Douglas said they ultimately chose to have her and Moxi eat lunch in the office without visitors on claims of “security concerns.”
“I think it speaks to the culture of the school system,” said Douglas’s mother Tammy. “I think it needs to be addressed on a systemic level.”
“That makes me feel like I’m the problem,” Douglas said. “It was very upsetting to hear that, coming from an upper-level administrator, telling me, ‘We’re not going to do anything.'”
On Oct. 13, her 17th birthday, Douglas’s family filed an ADA and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 complaint against Kalamazoo Public Schools with the U.S. Department of Education. A department spokesperson said there is an open investigation into the district as of Jan. 20 but cannot comment on pending investigations.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal anti-discrimination civil rights law protecting individuals with disabilities. According to the Michigan Department of Education, a section of that law ensures that, in a school setting, eligible students with disabilities have equal access to education through the development of a Section 504 Plan.
According to the Douglas family, Alyssa has one that allows her extended time to complete tests to accommodate her dyslexia. However, she told News 8 the plan is not being accepted by KPS staff, especially when it comes to testing and changing classrooms between periods with Moxi.
“I have a disability that requires special accommodations, but I’m not disabled enough for their standards to get something that I don’t necessarily need,” Douglas said. “I don’t need an individual education plan. I just need the basics. And they can’t even provide the basics and help them understand what they’re doing is wrong.”
The Michigan Department of Education also said some students with a disability can still be accommodated under a Section 504 plan without the need for an individual education program.
The Douglas family has asked the district for mediation to work together and move forward, but they say administrators refused to do so. Douglas, a senior, plans to study business at Grand Valley State University but hopes those in charge of her own school district learn their lesson for future students like her.
“It’s frustrating because it’s not an advantage in any way, shape or form. It’s to bring me up to the same level,” Douglas said.
The federal complaint marks the third recent legal matter against Kalamazoo Public Schools, who is being sued by a current employee and former administrator in two separate whistleblower lawsuits in state court. Board members and district representatives have yet to respond to News 8’s multiple requests for comment on any of these matters.