Service Pit Bull Wins the Right to Attend Florida Boy’s School

“Congress specifically intended that individuals with disabilities not be separated from their service animals, even in schools,” the DOJ wrote.

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For the last two years, Monica Alboniga has been trying to convince the Broward County School Board to allow her seven-year-old son to have his service dog with him at school.  The boy has cerebral palsy, and very much relies on his dog, Stevie.  Last week a judge ruled that Stevie should be allowed to attend.

With as many worries about their children that parents already have, none should have to worry about the safety of their child while at school.  In addition to cerebral palsy, Anthony Merchante has spastic paralysis, a seizure disorder, and he is unable to speak.  He uses a wheelchair to get around, and Stevie is often tethered to it.

Monica says Stevie “has saved Anthony’s life. I feel completely safe every time he is with the dog, because I know the dog will look for help.”

Stevie alerts people when Anthony has trouble breathing or is about to have a seizure.  He can lay himself across Anthony’s lap to support his head so his airway isn’t restricted.

“Stevie lets me know when he has seizures or problems breathing. He pushes me toward Anthony. He barks,” Monica said. “When Anthony is having convulsions, he starts barking and goes looking for us. Then he goes back to Anthony and stays with him.”

 

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Despite this, school administrators continuously said the trained service dog did not belong in the school.  A lawsuit was filed, and fortunately, US District Judge Beth Bloom is of a different opinion that the school.  She ruled that Stevie should be allowed to attend Nob Hill Elementary with Anthony.

“The district has always permitted the service dog at the school,” said the district’s spokeswoman, Tracy Clark. Alboniga “pursued the lawsuit as the parties [the district and the plaintiff] differ somewhat in the interpretation of the federal regulations governing service animals. The district’s legal department is reviewing and analyzing the order.”

When Monica submitted a formal request for Stevie to accompany Anthony in July of 2013, the school board demanded that Stevie must have a number of vaccinations that dogs are rarely given, and that Monica pay for Stevie to have a handler.

Her attorney, Matthew Dietz, called the rider “an impossible barrier” that violated federal civil rights laws.

“The fact that the judge said the school board’s rules made no sense vindicates this woman’s belief that what she was doing for her son was the right thing,” he said.

 

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For the first four months that Anthony attended kindergarten, his mother worked as Stevie’s handler.  Later, a custodian was appointed the task of walking Stevie outside and making sure other children didn’t interfere with his responsibilities.

“While at school,” Judge Bloom wrote, “Stevie does not eat or drink. Nor does Stevie defecate or make stains, or require cleaning or exercise.”

But administrators repeatedly claimed that it was not the district’s job to help Anthony keep Stevie at school.  However, someone at the US Justice Department said the board “fundamentally misunderstands” ADA regulations, which state that “public entities generally must permit individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals.”

The board argued that Stevie’s presence wasn’t necessary, as there were staff trained to perform the same tasks, and that the district shouldn’t have to pay for a dog handler.

“Congress specifically intended that individuals with disabilities not be separated from their service animals, even in schools,” the DOJ wrote.

Judge Bloom ruled that it was reasonable to expect the district to allow Stevie on campus “in the same way a school would assist a non-disabled child to use the restroom, or assist a diabetic child with her insulin pump, or assist a physically disabled child employ her motorized wheelchair.”

 

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126 thoughts on “Service Pit Bull Wins the Right to Attend Florida Boy’s School

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    1. I agree there should not be any question about actual trained service dogs. We have a guide dog in our home . The big problem popping up is that there are companies certifying animals by Internet and telephone with no training for a price. Many people are doing this to get around no pet policies. They send a card or letter certifying the animal as a service animal. Because of this people with a real need are paying for it. The way the law is written a business can not even ask for proof if you say an animal is a service animal. So what is happening is that people are taking pets everywhere which is getting problematic for those with a real need.

  2. I can’t believe this was even an issue. Would you deny a deaf person their hearing aide or a blind person their walking stick, or an old person their walker? No, of course not. If the dog is properly trained, then the dog is no different than said items above. Happy this was the outcome though!

  3. Sweet little guy. Too bad grownups sometimes get in the way! I’m glad he finally gets to have his dog in school!

  4. It’s a shame that this took so long to come to pass. This reinforces the importance of not falsifying service dogs legitimacy. Please save the real service dogs right to wear the vest to help the people who genuinely require them.

    1. Why would you say that? I hope you never have a child with any kind of problems. I would feel sorry for him.

  5. Should have been done previously. Glad the right decision was made. Looks like there is love there.

  6. Bet there would have Bern no problem if he was a golden!!! DISCRIMINATION again!!!! Thank GOD with each victory!!! Keep fighting for the digs people!!!!!!!! God bless

    1. YEP! And don’t forget pits score HIGHER then goldens on the temperance test! I want to be excited about this for pitbulls, (I have a rescue myself – best dogs ever!) but I am pretty certain that is only part pit, if any at all. Which in turn makes me angry all over again that any dog remotely resembling a pit is called a pitbull in the media and taken away bc of breed bans on “pitbull-type” dogs. They are also called pits at shelters, which makes them harder to adopt out. I used to volunteer at a shelter and I can tell you we have no idea what those dogs are we just guess. Not even a vet can tell exactly what a mix is by looking, and the people filling out the dog info cards are NOT vets.

  7. A service dog is a service dog, and if it has passed all the exams and certifications, I don’t care if it is a 200-pound monster dog!! Sheesh!

  8. Its surprising how this wasnt an automatic yes, but good for the school for recognizing the medical need

  9. If the dog hadn’t been a pitbull it never would have been an issue.
    .Oh and I want to know who on the staff has the ability to sense when the child is about to have a seizure before it happens?? Cause if they do I want proof lol

  10. Why would a school even fight this? So stupid. Glad the legal system finally worked for someone who actually deserves it.

  11. I remember when I lived in Switzerland anyone was alowed to bring thier dog into a resturant, why can a person with a sevice dog not be allowed to bring thier dog with them to school ? Thank god some DOJ has a heart…

  12. Should bloody well think so. Though any school that would take steps to limit a kid’s wellbeing like that is one worth avoiding. I learned that the hard way.

  13. Abput time!! I hate the way the way certain dogs get discriminated I have always said it’s the owner not the dog

  14. cant see the problem here if its a service dog for the child then surely no one has the right to refuse

  15. I’m so happy you won,your son should have any thing he needs,i know service dogs are quite helpful.may gd be with you

  16. <3 Only these special creatures are able to perform certaing "cures" which demand Pure and Inconditional Love … <3 só eles são capazes de certas "curas" cujo único remédio é Amor Puro e Incondicional

  17. A judge with some sense, but it should never have gone that far or taken that long. The school had no right denying this child his service dog.

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