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7-Year-Old Epileptic Can’t Take Service Dog To School Because Administrators Refuse To Take Responsibility For It

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mass school wont allow service dogA Massachusetts mother is in a battle with her local school district over whether or not her seven-year-old epileptic son will be able to bring his service dog to school with him. This is another one of those cases where my heart says, “Oh for God’s sake let him bring the dog!” While my mind says, “But maybe the school is right…?” Unfortunately for my brain, I rarely listen to it. Lead the way, heart!

Ericha Flateau‘s son Austin has a brain malformation that causes seizures and impairs his speech. Flateau managed to raise $15,000 for a trained service dog named Paris who is able to predict seizures. The dog is with Austin 24/7 and makes sure he is in a safe place before his seizures start. Now, Austin can’t attend his first-grade classes because his school, Davis Thayer Elementary in Franklin, told his mother that if Paris comes to school with Austin they will not allow any school staff (including Austin’s 1-1 aide) to be responsible for the dog. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they are within their rights to do so.

The website Canines For Disabled Kids offers a good explanation of the ADA’s stance on the presence of service dogs in schools:

The ADA secures access for all tools being used by a person who has a disability so that those tools can help that person to expand their independence. The ADA is clear that the facilities must allow for the tools to enter and have appropriate access to the environment but, that the facility ( often the school) is not responsible for the tool.

 

This means the school cannot be asked or required to provide an aid, teacher or other staff member to oversee the dog and child during the school day. If the child is capable of being fully responsible for the dog in public…then the child/dog team should be allowed full access in school. When a child is able to pass this test without the help of a parent or caregiver, the child has full access to malls, stores, and even school.

The website also says that there is a Public Access Test kids can take to show that they are able to care for the dog on their own, “…but between 12—14 is when most children will attempt the test on their own. Until then children are facilitated.” Austin, at seven-years-old, is at the age where he can be required to have an adult with him to manage the dog. The school, undoubtedly, wants to avoid any lawsuits that would come if the dog bit another student while under the supervision of school staff. All of this makes sense to my brain. But my heart says that there has to be a way that the school can make this work, right? Come on, life. Don’t hurt me.

For Austin’s mother, this puts her in a difficult position: she doesn’t want to send her son to school without his service dog, but she also can’t afford the accommodations needed for him to attend school. As she said in an interview with Fox & Friends:

“I cannot afford to hire a third-party dog handler, and I also can’t afford not to go to work myself,” she said. “So [Paris] has been home with him since we returned from training.”

And this is why I would be the world’s worst judge. Because I would look at cases like this and say, “Well, shit. Can’t we just bend the rules this one time? Wait, judges are supposed to think rules are important, aren’t they? But what if the rule sucks in some cases? Never mind. I quit. I’m going to go disarm bombs and give my mind a rest.”