Sophomore Deborah Stamm was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and Type 1 diabetes, and due to her disability, she requested to have her service dog, Sid, stay in her residence hall and accompany her to class. However, this request to keep Sid, who fulfills a need for companionship, was denied after her case was reviewed by various members of the University.
Her idea of having a service dog arose in the spring.
“I had a lot of problems at the end of last semester, to the point that I actually wasn’t going to come back to school – I had applied for inactive status,” Stamm said. “Then I found the idea of having a service dog and realized that I could come back to school with the service dog. When I got him, I was fine – I was normal and stuff again.”
Because Stamm noticed an improvement in her health after getting Sid in June, she wanted to have Sid with her on campus, particularly in her dormitory and while at class.
“Both my endocrinologist and psychologist from New Jersey wrote letters [to the University] saying the service dog was a good thing for me,” Stamm said.
According to the University’s “A Guide for Students with Disabilities,” “It is a personal decision to disclose the existence of a disability and request an accommodation… Students who request an accommodation must provide appropriate documentation to the Disability Coordinator in their respective college or school.”
University Intercessor and Coordinator of Disability Resources Kathy Sweetland elaborated on the process.
“The documentation needs to be up-to-date, thorough and complete,” Sweetland said. “We review that documentation and make a determination about whether the student is eligible for accommodations. Lots of times, the documentation itself contains some recommendations for accommodations and, lots of times, students also say these are accommodations that have worked for me in the past.”
Sweetland worked with Stamm during the summer to see that Stamm’s request was considered and that she submitted the relevant information to the correct offices.
“I’m a person who knows the process and helps people go through the process, but I’m not an advocate,” Sweetland said.
Stamm commented on her relationship with Sweetland, confirming that she did coordinate the procedure.
“Throughout the process, she told me the next appeals step, though she seemed to try and stay out of it as much as possible,” Stamm said.
After initially approaching the Office of Residential Life about bringing Sid along with her to UR, Stamm was asked to fax information to Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of University Health Services Ralph Manchester.
“I didn’t actually hear back from Dr. Manchester until the end of July. I sent him my papers on June 28,” Stamm said. “And then, when I finally heard back from him, he said it was in UCC’s hands.”
Stamm had originally submitted a letter from her endocrinologist and although she attempted to send a second letter from her psychologist to University Counseling Center’s Senior Instructor of Counseling and Mental Health Services Lisa Willis, her request was denied before further evidence of her disability was considered.
The next step, then, was to appeal. It remains unclear to Stamm whether this appeal would be reviewed by UCC or a committee; however, she could confirm that she received news of the second denial in the midst of a conversation with either Residential Life or Sweetland.
“I called Residential Life about something, and [someone said], ‘by the way, I’m sure you’ve already heard that the appeal was denied.’ It may have been in a conversation with Kathy Sweetland, but I never actually heard from a committee,” Stamm said.
Sweetland explained that the next step would be to appeal to Dean of the College Richard Feldman. If a student remains unsatisfied with the dean’s ruling, the last appeal can be made to the provost.
Stamm decided to continue with the appeals process and thus sent Feldman her information explaining her case, including a five-page letter further detailing her situation.
“When a case comes to me I do see the whole file… I get the whole package,” Feldman said. “I can consult with whomever I need to in order to get an understanding of the relevant laws to the case, obviously maintaining confidentiality for the student throughout, and then I make a decision… I took into account everything I could learn about past cases in making a decision about this one.”
Feldman declined to comment on when the case was first brought to his attention or any specifics, citing legal and confidentiality reasons.
“We’re not permitted to talk about it even though she is,” Feldman said. “All students should be able to trust that we will keep confidential their personal information, and we will do that regardless of their own behavior.”
On Aug. 23, Stamm heard from Feldman that he had reviewed her request and had decided to uphold the denial.
“[The reason] was that the doctor’s letter given didn’t accurately or sufficiently describe the disability,” Stamm said. “The professionals on the campus had reviewed it and didn’t think it was reasonable.”
Feldman did give Stamm the option to move off campus – Residential Life would waive the fee to terminate her housing contract and help her find a place to live.
Stamm took the final step and appealed to Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Kuncl. According to Stamm, Kuncl also requested proof of training for her service dog so she included letters from the two trainers who had coached Sid. Even with this additional information, however, the original decision was upheld.
“I got an e-mail saying [Kuncl] had made a decision, and it was still being denied,” Stamm said. “At this point, I was already on the road to Rochester with Sid.”
Kuncl gave her the opportunity to be reevaluated by a psychologist unaffiliated with UR although the University would pay for the service. After consulting her attorney, though, Stamm declined to undergo the evaluation.
Stamm hired an attorney after she learned Kuncl had also upheld the denial. Her attorney intends to follow up with the administration to see if the case can still be resolved.
Currently, because she is living on River Campus, Stamm has to keep Sid at an animal hospital.
Ideally, Stamm still hopes Sid will eventually be able to live and attend classes with her.
Squires is a member of the class of 2010.