Autistic Boy's School Says No To Service Dog

 |  Dec 17th 2008  |   42 Contributions


In St. Paul, MN an 8-year-old named Wally LaBerge has a Golden Retriever. Many children have dogs, what makes Wally's story unusual is that his dog is connected to him with a harness to help teach him.

Wally has autism which makes it difficult to interact with other people. Last year his doctors thought a service dog may help with socialization, as well as keeping down anxiety. After Wally passed the qualifications to get a service dog, his mother Victoria contacted Wally's school to advise them of the situation.

The St. Paul School District does not have a service dog policy, so Como Park Elementary told Victoria they'd have Newman come to school on a trial basis. For three weeks, Wally's team gathered numeric data on his social interaction and anxiety.

"We first must determine if the dog is needed in order for the child to benefit from special education," said Cecelia Dodge, St. Paul School District's Director of Special Education. She declined to discuss the specifics of Wally's case.

Victoria said the district would not provide a handler, so she volunteered to go to school with Wally and Newman each day. She said Como Park Elementary set strict rules to prevent Victoria from interfering with the learning process.

To the school, that meant Victoria wasn't allowed to talk to Wally or any of the other children in the class. Victoria thought the trial run unfair because she believed it was too short and didn't allow Newman and Wally to interact like they'd been trained.

"They essentially interfered with the team process of Wally and Newman," she said.

On Wednesday Victoria was informed by Como Park Elementary that Newman would not be allowed back to school. The school district did not feel Newman was of benefit to Wally in the public school setting and therefore chose against his being there.

The decision can be appealed, but the family has decided to sue the school to see if it would help get Newman back in school sooner.

Since there was no policy in the school regarding service dogs it was ultimately up to them to decide. Do you think the decision was fair? Would Newman be more distracting to the other children than beneficial to Wally? Give me a bark, share your thoughts.

* Photo of Newman courtesy wcco.com.

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