Monday, May 17, 2010
One of the hotest and most difficult issues in special education law today is whether disabled students should be allowed to bring their service animals to school? That is the topic of an April 2010 ABA Journal article, here. As the article states:
Among Chewey’s most important tasks is keeping Kaleb from running away, “which he did before when he became over-stimulated,” says Wakelin. Now Chewey is tethered to Kaleb’s belt loop, she says.
Chewey’s presence also has helped coax Kaleb to come to school in the first place. Before, she says, “his mother would pick him up and drag him. An aide would have to help put on his shoes. Now, he’s had no difficulty whatsoever.”
ILLINOIS LAW FUZZY
The Villa Grove school district is seeking to keep aide dogs like Chewey out of the classroom. While visually impaired children can have guide dogs, they say, Illinois law is vague about aide dogs for kids with other impairments.
“We don’t feel that the law is clear,” says superintendent Steven Poznic, adding that the district is concerned about both safety issues and classroom distraction. “It’s potentially disruptive for us. ... We don’t feel that it was necessary for the student to be successful.”
In a case of first impression in Illinois, the Douglas County Circuit Court ruled in favor of Kaleb and his family last November. The school district has appealed the case, and oral arguments are expected in May or June, says the school district’s attorney, Brandon Wright.
Chewey does not fit the definition of a service animal, Wright says, because Kaleb is incapable of commanding him to perform any tasks and the presence of an aide is required to control the animal.
Wright says those functions provide comfort, not service. “It’s ‘I feel better because I have my pet with me,’ ” he says, adding that school staff testified that they saw no particular benefits from the dog’s presence.
Wakelin insists there is nothing in the state school code that requires the child to be able to command the animal, although that is the goal of Kaleb’s parents. A similar case is being litigated in a school district in southern Illinois.
Law review commentary on this important issue would be most welcome.
Mitchell H. Rubinstein