CHICAGO -- A teenage girl with cerebral palsy wants to play basketball with her service dog and oxygen tank, but Special Olympics won't let her on the court with other disabled students, according to a federal lawsuit.
The Chicago-based advocacy group Equip for Equality sued Monday on behalf of Jennifer Youngwith, saying her civil rights have been violated. The 17-year-old from Carol Stream attends Community High School in West Chicago where she'll be a senior when school starts on Friday.
She uses a trained dog named Simba to carry a four-pound oxygen tank she needs. The girl's mother, Janice Youngwith, said Special Olympics has said only that it's "not appropriate" for Jennifer to be on the basketball court with the dog or the oxygen tank.
"We'd love for her to be allowed to play. We're asking for inclusion," Youngwith said, adding that she took legal action as a last resort. "I never thought it would get this far."
Community High School District 94 was also named as a defendant. District Superintendent Lalo Ponce said the district's attorneys are reviewing the complaint. Ponce said the teenager has participated fully in school activities and he was surprised by the lawsuit.
Special Olympics Illinois President Doug Snyder said he can't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but he said the organization must make decisions that take into account the safety of all participating athletes.
An attorney representing the group wrote that Jennifer could participate off the court "as an in-bounder of the ball with Simba at her side," according to an e-mail included by the plaintiffs as an exhibit in the lawsuit.
Special Olympics also offered to allow Jennifer to participate in individual athletic skills competition, according to the e-mail from Bloomington attorney William Mueller Jr.
That wasn't enough for Youngwith.
"Jenny would love to play with her friends like she's done for the past two years in gym class," Youngwith said. "She was absolutely devastated when she wasn't allowed to participate."
The lawsuit claims Jennifer has suffered headaches, nausea and difficulty sleeping after being barred from the basketball court. It requests a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages.