October 24, 2020

School Disallows Service Dog For Autistic Child Without a Dog Handler Present


SHERWOOD, Ore. — After months of watching her son struggle, a Sherwood mom said she decided to bring his service dog to school, even though she knew it was against the rules.

John McDonald has autism and his dog, Kai helps him keep calm and safe. The 6-year-old boy and 70-pound Labrador stay connected with a tether and share a very special bond.

That’s why Jennifer McDonald worked with Middleton Elementary School last year, to allow Kai to attend classes with her son. She said initially, it seemed like everything would be fine. The school replaced carpet with bare floors and revamped the H-VAC system in case of allergies. They even paid for 3 days of specialized training for the staff.

Then the district stopped McDonald in her tracks, requiring that a dog handler be present at all times.

“The last day of training, the district sent an email stating that Kai is more than welcome to come to school but the family – me – are going to need to provide a handler. Either pay for somebody or I would have to go to school with John.”

McDonald disagreed. She felt a handler wasn’t necessary. But said if the school wanted one, the district should have to cover the cost, based on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The family filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice in December, 2015. As they await word on a ruling, John must attend class without his furry helper.

“I guess I was naive. I thought – it’s a service dog, he’s allowed to go in public places. He’s mandated that he can go with John anywhere,” McDonald told KGW. “It never occurred to me that it would come up to something like this.”

McDonald said she’s watched her son struggle without his dog and just can’t take it anymore. That’s why on Tuesday, she just decided to take Kai to school and hope for a change of heart.

Kai was not allowed inside. Administrators said the school supports John’s service dog, but reiterated that he must have a handler.

They also issued a statement Wednesday, which says, in part:

“The District communicated to the parents that, under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the dog is welcome in the classroom as long as either a parent or someone the parents arrange is in the classroom to supervise and care for the dog.

However, the request of the parents that the District provide supervision and care for the dog involves expenditure of public funds and the assignment of additional staff. These are of great concern to the District, acting as a steward of public funds.”

A lawyer for the district is also working on a resolution, school officials said. But for now, McDonald must continue to follow the rules.

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