Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Autism Support Dog Denied Entrance

For the past several months, one of the bloggers on my favorites list -Michelle at Full- Soul- Ahead has been writing about the efforts she, her family and friends, have been involved in trying to secure a support dog for her daughter, Riley. Riley has Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the Autism Spectrum.

Recently, in the neighboring school district to ours, a mother of an 8-year-old boy with Autism recently was able -thanks to several fund-raising events in the area - to acquire a support dog for her son, Austin. However, since the acquisition of the dog, the school district where her son attends has denied admittance of the dog to come to school with her son.

Yesterday, our local newspaper did an article about the dog, the school's refusal to allow the dog to come with the boy. Since our local paper doesn't have a strong online presence, I transcribed the article and am posting the entire piece here.

I personally do not understand why the school can not see how beneficial this dog would be for the boy to have her with him during school. If it was something recommended for him by his therapists, possibly psychologists and/or psychiatrists as well, then I would think that would or should be enough for the school to go by and to allow the dog to attend with Austin. (After all, if it were a seeing-eye dog, would that be contested based on "educational need" as the school appears to be using as their excuse for not allowing the dog in there.

Here then is the article. Any comments? Feel very free to leave them on my blog or contact me via e-mail.

Taken from The Clearfield Progress, Monday, April 13, 2009

By Timothy Nebgen, Staff Writer
WEST DECATUR --Man's best friend is seemingly no friend of administrators at
Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District, who have denied Rosie, the certified service dog of 8-year-old Austin Lauder, access to North Lincoln Hill Elementary School.

In a Jan. 19 letter, signed by district Superintendent Charles Young and Special Education Supervisor Pamela Stone, the district informed Austin's mother, Michelle Frye of West Decatur, that Rosie is not permitted in the school because "discussions are continuing to establish the educational need for this type of support."

In December, The Progress reported on Ms. Frye's efforts to raise money to bring Rosie to Pennsylvania. At the time, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever was already undergoing special training to help Austin, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2, develop his social skills and physically blog self-injuring behaviors he had begun to manifest.

"The people in this town were very giving," said Ms. Frye, who explained that in total she was able to raise nearly $10,000. She said several people called to pledge donattions after the article appeared in The Progress in Decemberand that Austin was also selected to receive a "wish" from a Christmas Carol program sponsored by another local media outlet. That turned out to be a $5,000 contribution that helped pay the remaining balance on the purchase of the animal and permitted the handler to make the trip from California to Pennsylvania and stay the night at the Harbor Inn before returning home.

"(Rosie is) working out very well," Ms. Frye said of the family's new addition. She said there has been a noticeable reduction in the amount of time Austin spends interacting with his hands, which he had begun referring to as "Vince" and "Oobi." It is common for autistic children to engage in some sort of self-stimulatory behavior such as Austin's, but Ms. Frye became concerned when "Vince" and "Oobi," who were initially friends of Autsin, turned against him and caused Austin to being physically abusing himself.

In addition to a decrease in the self-stimulatory interaction and self-abuse, Austin has also begun to engage in more social interaction, introducing everyone to "his Rosie."Ms. Frye admitted she would not have hesitated to bring Rosie into her home even if she had known the district would not permit her in the school. She is confused, however, by administrators' current stand on the issue.

"What baffles me is how supportive they were in the beginning," she said. She explained in December that faculty and staff at the district chipped in by sponsoring a caual dress day, where faculty and staff paid for the opportunity to wear casual attire. They were able to raise $300 by those means, and the high school also donated half the proceeds of a Chinese auction to the cause, bringin the total funds raised by the school district to $1,000.

"I even have a picture of Mr. Patrick Hockey and Mr. RObert Rocco at the rock concert," she said. As such, she said it was something of a shock when she received the letter a day before Rosie was set to arrive.

The Progress spoke briefly with board member Stephen Switala, who explained the board had been advised by its solicitor, Patrick Fanelli of Andrews & Beard Law Offices, not to comment on the matter.

Mr. Fanelli spoke the The Progress and said the district's current standpoint is not an outright refusal to admit the animal into the building. He said he regretted that he could not get into the specifics of Austin's case owing to the district's obligation to maintain the confidentiality of its students. But, he explained the district is required by law to follow certain procedures to determine the educational need for having the animal in the
building. Mr. Mr. Fanelli said his and the district's current stand is that procedures have yet to be completed and Rosie is not permitted in the building until the educational need for her presence has been established.

Mr. Fanelli said he wanted to assure everyone that the district takes the education of all its students, especially those with special needs, very seriously and that the procedures with which the district must follow through by law can be completed relatively quickly.

When asked if he thought it was possible that process could be completed in time for the beginning of the next school year, he said he believed that would be a reasonable expectation.

Ms. Frye said Mr. Young informed her that if the administrators had known it was her intention that Rosie should attend school with Austin in October, they may have been able to make that accomodation.

When asked how it escaped the attention of administrators, some of whom participated in fundraisers meant to help offset the cost of the animal, that it was Ms. Frye's intention Rosie should attend school with her son, Mr. Fanelli said he could not provide a definite answer since he was not previously aware that had occurred. He said he could speculate, however, that the administrators who participated in fundraisers were themselves not aware
it was Ms. Frye's intention to have Rosie attending school.

In the meantime, life goes on for Austin, his mother and Rosie.

"I notice that people seem to be more accepting of him because they recognize that there is a problem and he's not just problem child," Ms. Frye said of the positive changes Rosie has made in their life.

She said more and more people are taking an interest in Austin and Rosie now that they are together, and although Rosie does wear a vest that reads, "Please don't pet me, I am working," Ms. Frye said people shouldn't be afraid to ask anyway.

She said part of the reason for bringing Rosie here was to help Austin with his social skills, and he will be more than happy now to tell you about her.


Sandee said...

Red tape is abundant everywhere isn't it? It's a shame too.

Have a terrific day. :)

Linda said...

Interesting ... I would be willing to bet that the school district was all for it until someone complained about something as that's usually the way it seems to go. Sadly I also bet they fight about this for a long time to come while Austin is missing out on the benefits of having Rosie with him. How very sad.

Dr.John said...

My daughter is a counselor for troubled children and you would be surprised at the attitude she gets from the school. They just want the kids gone.

Hammer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hammer said...

They allowed service animals at my school back in the 70's.

Why would they restrict them at this one?

It makes no sense.

There are plenty of things they can flex their administrative muscles over.

Denying a boy his theraputic animal is stupid and unwise move.

SnoopMurph said...

Hmmm. I am not sure how I feel on this one. I absolutely believe that dogs and animals are therapeutic and foster an amazing connection to children with autism and special needs. I definitely am a supporter of pets for kids with autism.

I think the school district jumped the gun-if they need a policy or law, that should have been clear from the beginning. If there are complaints, that should be honestly addressed with the parents, administrators and teacher. I can see where there might be just cause for concern related to allergies or students who are afraid (I am not a fan of dogs, very nervous).

Red said...

She needs to write her congressman. This is a violation of the Americans' with Disabilities Act.

Keep us updated.

Red said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie May said...

Over here it wouldn't be allowed.
I think it is a pity because obviously the dog helps the boy with every day living and gives him some security. Also other children would probably mix with this boy more if he had a dog. Everyone is attracted to an animal and this would help this boy.
I wonder, would they take this attitude with a guide dog for the blind?

Anonymous said...

This type of thing makes me seethe. There's so much health and safety about these days that we can't even blow our noses in public anymore. It's disgusting. I should imagine it would be exactly the same in Amy's school. I wanted to take a lamb to school last year but they said a definite no. Hygeine, health & safety crap. I was absolutely fuming when I found out a few weeks later that another parent, a member of the school committee, took one of her lambs in and no one bat an eye lid. I suggest this family keep trying because there's always a way around things.

These dogs are an absolute god send. It is common knowledge to the autistic society that animals, dogs in particular have a wonderful knack of helping a child with such needs. I know, it's helped Amy considerably.

CJ xx

Suldog said...

I generally have great respect for teachers, but I have found over the years that, unfortunately, some of the stupidest people alive also become teachers. Those even stupider become administrators. And a few seem to have washed up on your educational shore. I pity the folks who have to deal with such drones.

Mary said...


This is ludicrous. That dog is a guide dog, just the same as if the little one was blind. I cannot see how the school district can forbid it from the premises. The child needs that dog to function and believe me, I know what animals can do for those who have Asperger's Syndrome.

I suggest you post the email of the school district or of the state legislature. Then we can bombard them with emails protesting this treatment of the child. I would think this is against his human rights. He has been diagnosed and has every right to receive all the support he can get, whether it be academic, social learning or having his dog by his side.

If you decide to post email addresses, I will post about this and make them available to my readers as well. The treatment of this child infuriates me.

Blessings to you for posting this.