Increase Service Dog Accessibility in HWDSB Schools

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Michelle McLaughlin started this petition to HWDSB

SUMMARY: The purpose of this petition is to demand amendments to HWDSB’s “Student Use of Guide Dogs and Service Animals” Policy. This is intended to ensure that the unnecessary heartache that I endured at the hands of HWDSB does not happen to another disabled student ever again. In short, the amendments I request be made are to no longer require a certification by an accredited training organization, the decision of the need for a service dog being determined by a regulated health professional, allowance of service dogs in training in schools, and lack of need for a diagnosis on an application for the service dog. These four amendments would greatly improve accessibility for student service dog handlers, and speed up the process at which a service dog could be allowed in HWDSB schools, to minimize student suffering without their dog.


According to their “Persons With Disabilities Procedure” Policy, under the Terminology section, HWDSB defines disability as “a problem that occurs when a person’s environment is not designed to suit their abilities.” This includes “mental disorders,” as in my case. They define accessibility as the “degree of ease that something [...] can be accessed, used and enjoyed by persons with disabilities.” In my 2018-2019 year in highschool under the HWDSB, I learned that their “[commitments] to the principles of equity,” “providing services that are free of barriers and biases,” (section 1.1) and “opening channels of communication” (section 3.4) were no more than pretty words. Through a series of hoops to jump through and barriers blocking my access, I was denied access with my service dog while I was being educated by HWDSB. The following are necessary amendments to the “Student Use of Guide Dogs and Service Animals” Policy that would make HWDSB much more accessibility friendly (for the purpose of being concise, I will use the terms ‘guide dog’ and ‘service dog’ interchangeably, when speaking in my own words).


Under Terminology, “service dog” shall be defined using the same conditions as the AODA’s Customer Service Standards: 1. “The animal is easily identifiable as relating to your disability (for example, it is a guide dog or other animal wearing a vest or harness)” or 2. “You can provide documentation from a regulated health professional confirming the animal is required due to a disability.”


Under Procedures: Background: section 1.3.2, “the determination of whether the animal is an appropriate accommodation in the school setting to accommodate a demonstrated disability-related learning need is a decision of the school board,” shall be amended to “a decision of a health professional, such as a chiropractor, audiologist, physician, or psychologist.” A medical professional is much more qualified to make this decision, as demonstrated by the HWDSB deciding that I was not disabled because my grades were too high.


Under Procedures: Background: section 1.4, “Due to risks to safety, and risks of disruption and distraction to the learning environment, the school board does not permit training of potential guide dogs and service dogs in the school setting or during school activities,” shall be amended to “training potential guide dogs and service dogs will be screened for aggression before being allowed in the school setting or during school activities, and will be reviewed and potentially ceased if the dog proves to be a risk to safety, or risk of disruption and distraction.” While it has the potential for negative consequences, training a service dog can be an extremely helpful and fulfilling experience for the person training. Raising a service dog in training teaches a student many useful life skills such as time management and responsibility. It also greatly helps members of a marginalized community. I would encourage HWDSB to give a service dog in training the benefit of the doubt due to the incredible things they can do, instead of viewing them in a bad light right away. 


Under the Application for a Guide Dog/Service dog, “an assessment report [...] containing the student’s diagnosis” is required. An official diagnosis should not be required to start the process of applying to use a service dog on HWDSB premises. Waiting for a diagnosis is a lengthy process to add time to the already lengthy process presented by the school board to approval of the service dog. For example, had I not gone to the hospital due to my disability, waiting for a diagnosis from a psychiatrist would have taken many months. Instead, the applicant could show proof of actively pursuing a diagnosis, which could be provided later. 


In addition, amendments should be made to any other sections of the document that conflict with the changes in policy, to instead support and reflect those changes. These amendments are all intended to increase accessibility for disabled students, and reduce the barriers they have to face in order to bring their service dog to school. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,


Michelle McLaughlin

michelle.works.cda@gmail.com 

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