Family of Child with Autism at Odds with School District

Life With Dogs is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.

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. Shocking! Not the dog issue, but the people who just want to dump the kid. Saying ‘it’s your problem’ is the same as saying I don’t drive when it snows therefore my tax money should not pay for plowing the roads. Ridiculously self-centered to the extreme!

    • Disagree Deb, my Brother in Law is extremely handicapped, he was driven 2 hours by my MIL to a school that could handle his disabilities until he was 21, which is when he was too old to still attend school so they “graduate” him. My BFF’s youngest son is severely autistic, she has had to quit her job, she and her husband have applied for grants, medical insurance coverage etc to get him approved to go to a special needs school that basically prepares the child for institutional living because, according to his doctors when he is a teenager he will have NO choice but to institutionalize him because he has irreparable damage to the middle brain so he cannot rationalize, cannot speak, cannot learn sign language, he cannot and will not be able to communicate what so ever so he gets frustrated and attacks people, pets, things out of frustration. (He had a stroke after getting stuck in the birth canal). But she doesn’t blame the school systems that he cannot attend normal school, does not expect them to cater to his service dog, what if someone is allergic, now we have to drug our kids that have dog allergies because of your son? Again, cards you were dealt, your job to make what you can like my MIL did and my BFF does everyday. You bring shame to the efforts they go through with your demands for only your child at the sacrifice of everyone elses.

      • This child has anxiety not all the other issues your listing. He can go to school & he can learn & be productive in life therefore he deserves to be there with his dog . Anxiety issues are very well treated by service dogs the are used for our ptsd vets daily. Your stating they should suck it up is ridiculous not even close to the same scenario.

    • Thanks Deb my thoughts exactly! I can clearly see reading all these comments what exactly has gone wrong with my country. Selfish self centered people who take no responsibility for anything at all. These special needs kids will never use your football , cheerleading, music band, or hockey ,soccer, extra curricular budgets either. But I suppose we should still be paying for that while our child sits at home & stares at the walls when they have the ability to learn as normal as any other child academically except in a different way ?

  2. So, if a school district provides the attention/instruction your child needs, while your new school district does not, then why not go back? These two districts are 9 miles apart. Clearly, the one district does not want to pay for an aide and a dog handler, while the other did not require one to.

    Free education is not free, someone has to pay for it. I may suggest you return to the district which helped your child. Of course, it would be better to just sue and force the district to pay more $$$ to help your child.

    This article is so bogus because it tries to create a ‘real’ controversy with the district, rather than truly address the issue at hand. A child who needs a dog, should have the ability to care for the dog’s needs, i.e. take it to the bathroom, or have a qualified person to do so. You cannot expect the school to provide every single accommodation to help your student, because the are in public school and the school is required to provide reasonable accommodations.

    I am a teacher who has only seen service animals for students needing them for physical disabilities, not emotional ones.

  3. Why exactly does the dog need a handler? I went to school with a blind kid, he had a dog. It was just the two of them. No assistant for the kid, no handler for the dog. the dog led the kid where he needed to go, like he was meant to do. Granted being blind and having autism are two totally different things. This kid was totally normal other than he just couldn’t see.

    • J, because that kid was able to care for the dog himself. He was probably older and wasn’t autistic. Having a service dog isn’t all that much different than having a regular dog other than the service dog is usually better trained. The dog still needs a human to care for it, control it in situations outside of its training, and reinforce its training. Kids don’t usually get service dogs until they are old enough to take on the responsibility of owning one because if they aren’t able to care for the dog properly and continually reinforce its training it will revert back to a pet pretty quickly.

  4. question… What if another child in the class has a fear of dogs? Just wondering as I had a child in my class who would not even sit for a presentation with a police officer and his miniature chocolate lab. She was terrified to even look at it.

    • The ADA trumps fear and allergies. People with service animals depend on their dogs to keep them safe. They’re not pets, they are tools that are vital to the handler’s well-being. Unless the fear or allergy is severe enough to be life-threatening, you just have to suck it up.

      • This is not a service dog its an emotional support dog which isn’t covered under the ADA. Service dogs belong to people who fit the definition of “handler” which means that they are old enough and capable enough to handle their own service dogs. This kid is obviously not. It takes a lot of money and time to properly train a service dog which is why reputable trainers make sure a kid is old enough to care for the dog and reinforce the dog’s training before training the dog for a kid.

  5. Dogs are the most amazing and loving creatures on the planet. <3 Humans could learn so much from Dogs, if they would just pay attention. 😉

      • They are not breaking any laws as the dog is not part of the IEP or 504 plan. They are only in disagreement if it should become part of the plan. You can only go to mediation to resolve this issue. IDEA only stays accommodations need to be made it does nit dictate what accommodations nor can a parent dictate such accommodations. The accommodations must be reasonable. Also accommodations can not be dictated to the district if it puts then in a place that they can be sued by another party. An example of this would be if a child allergic to dogs had a reaction because of the school allowing the animal in the building.

        504 are not IEPs and have a different criteria. First if the child’s academics are not impacted by the disability significantly a 504 can not be granted. Anxiety may in fact affect the child, but if the child can be taught after the anxiety attack and kept current a 504 does not have to be granted.

        In a case that a child is a runner, the school has protocols to follow to keep the child safe.

        And ADA and IDEA does not have a trump card. Thus comments like this child trumps a child allegory is an invalid.

        So please no the entire law.
        Remember no one child’s education is any more important than another
        And finally it is disheartening to hear the argument by some that one disability is worse than another for anyone that has lived with their own disability you know for yourself it is difficult in its own way.

      • No, because its not a real service dog. No one is going to train a service dog for a child that young because that child can’t handle the dog. Service dogs are not robots – you don’t just program instructions in them. Their training has to be constantly reinforced by their owner (the disabled person). Their owner also has to ensure that the dog understands when its working (for most people this is when the dog is wearing a vest) and when its allowed to be a normal dog (when the vest is taken off) otherwise the dog reverts to a pet and has to get retrained. I have no problem with service dogs but I don’t want my child going to school with a huge dog that’s being controlled by a 5-6 year old (guessing at the age). Conversely, I don’t send my dog to school with my 5 year old because she’s too young to control the dog.


Leave a Comment