Family of Child with Autism at Odds with School District

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11.19.14 - Family of Child with Autism at Odds with School District

John McDonald has autism.  One of the symptoms of which is great anxiety in the little guy, and sometimes it becomes too much for him.  When this happens he will attempt to run home.  So, for his safety, his family adopted Kai, his service dog.  Kai keeps John from becoming too anxious, and thusly keeps him safer.

Kai seems to have mellowed John out a bit.  Ever since his family got him, John seems to be a bit calmer all around.  This is good especially for school time situations.  Kai is attached to John via safety tether, and if John decided to run, Kai would simply lay down, not allowing John to get too far.  If Kai notices that John is becoming too nervous, he knows how to calm him down.

The Sherwood School District was fine with allowing Kai and John to be together in class, but they told the McDonald family that Kai would need to have a handler while at the school.  The instructional assistants that help out in John’s special needs classes wouldn’t be allowed to fill that role.

“So, basically, either I would have to quit my job and go to school full time with my son, or I would have to hire a dog handler to attend school with John and Kai.  Neither are an option for me,” said Mrs. McDonald.

At this point, John is being kept home from school, and his mother has contacted an attorney to explore her options.

The attorney for the Sherwood School System, Rich Cohn-Lee, said that the school is well within their rights.  According to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act says a school district “is not responsible for the care or supervision of a service animal.”

They may not be totally responsible for the handling of the service animal, but things are not that cut and dry.

Cohn-Lee said, “It’s not simply a matter of all you have to do is handle the dog.  These aides have a tremendous burden to take care of the educational needs of the child.”

It would seem that the school district would be responsible for hiring someone to handle the dog according to Cohn-Lee.

“That’s a lot of money to pay someone,” he said.  He then added it would be cost prohibitive with multiple service animals in the school.

When the McDonald family was sending John to school in the Newberg School District, a special handler wasn’t needed for Kai to be with John.  The principal at the Dundee Elementary School John and Kai were attending at the beginning of the year had no problems at all.  An assembly was held to advise the other students and staff how to react to Kai being with John in school, and everything seemed to go without incident.

According to Dundee Elementary School principal Reed Langdon, “There was no hesitation from the staff.  The dog wasn’t an issue for us.”

84 thoughts on “Family of Child with Autism at Odds with School District”

  1. Pam Tuffli Haselow…made me think of you, you advocation for dogs and autism all rolled into one. 🙂

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  2. So if the dog was not an issue at the other school, why did they switch schools, and why not go back there?

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    • the way the law is the school district needs to educate all students if they can not do so in the school building then they will need to send a teacher to the home and do it there. and that is very expensive

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      • They don’t have to send a teacher to that home. That is just one option. That also means a parent must be present or another adult assigned by the parent who works. Whatever applies to public school, applies to the school’s alternative options. So, unless every child needs a parent present in order to access publc education, they that is rarely an option. If they can not educate the child in their regular district, they can send the child to an alternative school that can. Most argue that though, due to cost. What no one seems to understand, unless they ahve been through it personally,is that it usually requires a due process, sometimes many appeals, lawyers for each side and can run upwards of 100K or double that before its over and the child loses a year or two of education and services in the meantime. What parent of a special needs’ child has that? Most of the child’s medical needs are not covered by insurance or only in part. The school board attorney will drag it out, hence more taxpayer monies to avoid setting precedence for those kids who should be in alternative settings. After all, it’s only tax payer money, not their own personal cash, or things would be differently approached by school board attorneys. The alternative school from the start would be the least costly alternative and would be most “appropriate” for the child, providing all resources and methodologies have been attempted by the district and they ackowledge they can not handle the child’s needs in their building/district setting. Most districts would rather argue.

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  3. I’m going to be hated for this, but this kind of thing is precisely why I pay for my child to go to a parochial school. The kind of governmental overreach that goes along with this kind of case and the time taken away from the classroom (I know he’s in special needs, but he will eventually be mainstreamed) and other students creates too much focus on one, note enough on the others. Now an employee will be expected to care for not only the child, but the dog, too? I LOVE dogs (I have 5), but it seems to me like that’s just overkill in an already overtaxed school system. The government is not your nanny, people. I’m sorry your child has special needs. It’s not your, mine or our fault, but don’t expect the average citizen to sacrifice the education of their children for the overwhelming needs of a few. I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way, but the haters will hate.

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    • I’m with you. It’s a terrible thing to have a child struggling but it’s YOUR respinsibility to take care of your child. How many teachers go without a raise, pay for their own supplies? Classrooms are overcrowded and in disrepair with no hope of being “fixed” in the near future. I have empathy and respect for any parent going through an issue with a child with special needs but it’s an issue they must handle. Not an issue we must all bear the brunt of for them.

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      • I am with you. I also sent my children to parochial and then private schools. Let ME decide how to spend my money!!!

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    • My publicly educated, academically gifted children actually lost out more to having their education dumbed down for the average children of average citizens rather than to having any special needs children in their schools ‘catered to’. I will presume to suppose if a special needs child were allowed to enroll in a parochial school with a service animal, the parents would also be required to send a handler at their own expense, since it is after all a private school. Do private schools allow special needs children? Or is that too much of a distraction for the other children and not allowed? I solved my ‘dumbed down education’ problem by enhancing what my children learned at home, adding to their public school education. It is also through sharing their education with special needs children and “this kind of thing” that my middle child was able to find her passion and plan her higher education. I would rather my school put forth the extra effort and expense to help educate a ‘special needs’ child who is doing his/her best to learn under the circumstances, with their parent’s support, than to put forth the effort they do in order to get many students who couldn’t care what they learn that day through graduation day. If you consider me ‘hating’, my apologies. I don’t care at all where your child goes to school….it’s the thought you think you are keeping private in your head that I dislike…”thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that kind of child….my child is special and perfect and will get a private parochial education so we don’t have to burden ourselves with that sort of thing.” Just remember, now you have nothing to blame either when Jr learns the bare minimum and doesn’t seem to ever want to leave home.

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      • Thank you so much for this wonderful post! Signed : A parent of a special needs child who is brilliant & in all gifted classes. He is being dumbed down by their perfect children. Not the other way around. How horrible there are parents who actually feel like this woman who has spoken ! I can only imagine the small limited bubble of a perfect world & the pressure her ” perfect ” children will have to endure a lifetime of. your a wonderful mother. God Bless.

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      • Well, that mom who doesn’t want them in her school had better watch what she says because this is what federal law mandates, and has nothing to do with parents of special needs kids having to fight for their rights. Public school is just that. For the public, paid for by our federal and local government and by our local taxes. And yes, my special ed kids were most definitely dumbed down for years by untrained staff. Paid for year of private tutoring and private therapies, and yes, fought the school for subpar services. My kids were smarter than any of the educators thought they were and we prove them wrong over and over again. The districts dumb down, not because of any special ed, but for the majority of their local district population’s intelligence as a whole.

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    • I agree, as a former teacher in FL(gr 2) students are coming to the classrm l with issues I cannot handle. Now nearly 25% of the class has an IEP, or need some type of intervention be it physical or mental. When you have a class of 18-20 7-8 yr olds to educate its nearly impossible to attend to all needs. ! Anything the parents can to do help is needed BADLY! Whether it as a dog or an aide. You can always home school too.
      After 9 yrs I had to leave the profession, too stressful, I am sick emotionally, physically & mentally.

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      • I made it 6 yrs in teaching. 6 of the most stressful, overwhelming and overworked years of my life. And I always got to hear about how easy I had it because i “only worked 9 months out of the yr”. Well, you only get paid for 9 months which nobody seems to realize. You can choose to get that 9 months of pay stretched out over 12 months if you want to (just so you don’t blow it all in one place) but it’s still only 9 months worth of pay. And I haven’t added it up but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the nights I dragged home work after school and all the work I took home on weekends plus the weekend hours I spent working in my classroom would add up to far more than 9 months – probably closer to 12 – and none of this working on weeknights and weekends was counted as overtime – all included in the 9 month salary. I also heard “you’re only there from 8:30-3:30”. Not me. We had to be at my school at 7:45 and were not allowed to leave the building until 4:30. Special needs students in the classroom take up the majority of the time. Straight-A students tend to thrive no matter what. The C students are the ones who fall through the cracks. The ones who could really use extra time & attention. Instead it’s all focused on special needs. “Ok kids – please go to centers (while Johnny is throwing his second violent fit of the day and I’m trying to calm him down). There’s still a need for separate special education classes for many special needs kids but that’s politically incorrect to say. Parents have been brainwashed into thinking their kids should be mainstreamed (stuck in the “regular” classroom with 20-25 other students) no matter what – when that’s not what’s best for them and definitely not what’s best for the majority of the class.

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      • Wow! What school still has only 18 – 20 students in a 2nd grade classroom?!? The schools I know about have 25 – 30; some teachers thinking they’re lucky to have “only” 27 this year. And, as you say, at least 25% have an IEP. One teacher I know of has 30 students in a combined 2nd/3rd grade classroom with one Aide who floats in and out with special needs students, as well as Aides for individual students rotating through, everyone of whom need specially written-up lesson plans. And now someone thinks she should deal with a dog?!? Granted, many dogs are trained to sit and stay better than most kids 🙂 but one of the assistants is petrified of dogs and refuses to be forced into the room when one is present. The whole world is not Portland, people; please leave your dogs at home and see if you can come up with more reasonable solutions. For instance, can the boy be slowly weaned off the real thing onto a look-alike stuffed animal to that might ease his anxiety? Also: no, I do not want my taxes to increase to pay for more personalized special handling, nor do I want the state to impose a sales tax to pay for all the extra services. Do you? Some services seem to be crossing over into baby- and dog-sitting services. Hmmm; just think how much teachers could be paid if they start charging at the going rate for EACH child – and dog – in their classrooms. Maybe that’s the answer? Do the math. Charge each parent the rate for sitting for each dog or student they send to the school system. Then the school could easily afford all the extra aids necessary for raising someone else’s child. The really unfortunate result of demanding so much of our schools is that those demands drive away many caring and knowledgeable people who would otherwise be the shining stars that would smart-up their classes and send caring and knowledgeable students out into the world. Saw – with great heaviness of heart – that very thing happen to two gifted individuals in my own school. What a shame.

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      • I can only say that which I have said for years. This is federal law that every child be educated. Teachers should not be in the field of educating children if they only know how to teach to one kind. It starts with a higher level of degree necessary to teach. Period. Every educator should have a degree in special education, or get out of the units of teaching. That special education degree can help every single child, but you can not teach a child without training to do it. What other job can one go to that serves the public but then doesn’t have the ability to work or skill set to do their job with the public. Go to a private school and teach or get a job in tutoring, or go get the skills necessary to teach the public children in your district. All of them. not just the few that learn your now way of teaching.

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    • This is my exact same thought. I’m sorry about your son, and your troubles, but this is NOT a school issue. It is the hand you were dealt and your responsibility to figure out suitable solution. Perhaps your son needs to find a special needs school?

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  4. There is so much wrong with this. Where to begin? The family has stepped up with a solution with the service dog, and the school admin is not doing their part. Won’t reiterate the law because it’s in previous postings, but the school is obligated to supply an aide. Rebecca Fletcher, that’s how a school makes sure that the special needs of one child doesn’t interfere with the rest of the class. I suspect that the school admin is using this issue to get the child out of the school for budgetary reasons. I understand your points, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think if you were not in the position to afford tuition, and your child was being deprived of an education, you might see things differently. No hating, just the benefit of the doubt. As it stands, I think the school district will at minimum have to provide at home instruction.

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    • Everyone has the right to a free public education. Everybody does not have the right to a dog-handler.

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    • Exactly right Liz. The child is already in a special education classroom its states so in this article. It also states that the aides that work helping out in the classroom ? Sounds like an “understaffed” special needs classroom to me. The dog also is a real service dog to answer other posters ridiculous comments about it being just a pet. He is adopted rescue service dog. These dogs come from being retired after working an individual who may have passed on or with military soldiers who have PTSD & other situations where due to physical activity they retire then young to maintain the health of the dog. They offer them for adoption to homes who are in need of a service dog & unable to afford one. The dog is trained with the family & the specific person they will be a companion too. People should really educate themselves before they make comments.

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  5. I totally agree with Rebecca iris not the schools responsibility. I know this is harsh but your child is your responsibility and maybe home schooling could be a better option.

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  6. Why did the parents change schools in the first place? The school system shouldn’t be made to pay for a dog handler. In the first place, this dog is way too big for a small child. He certainly couldn’t handle it.

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    • A child who is a runner needs a large dog to assist him because a little dog wouldn’t provide the weight needed to help the child resist the impulse to run away. That said I also thought why move- those towns are close. Bill Gates didn’t adjust well to a move so his mom kept driving him to school so he could be where he was successfull.

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    • The dog handles the child not the other way around this is why it is called a service dog 😉 ! the parents may have moved & now they have to use the new district. it may not have been a choice they made.

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      • Service dogs are not nannies. Most reputable agencies would never train a dog for a child that young because owning a service dog is a lot of responsibility. The people benefiting from the service dogs have to care for those dogs, they have to exert control over those dogs, and they have to constantly reinforce the training of their dogs. Its a dog not a robot.

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