Allowing special needs children their service animals in school.
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Grade 3 student Kenner Fee was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of three and has been aided by a service dog in order to attend school. Kenner's dad, Craig Fee, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo the school board said the boy does not qualify to bring his service dog into the classroom.
Eight-year-old Kenner Fee, who has autism, has a service dog named Ivy. His pediatrician recommended it to help the boy stay calm and avoid the urge to run away, which are common problems for people with this disorder.
And the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides did extensive screening before they gave the dog to Kenner three years ago, to ensure the child would benefit from the relationship.
But the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, which has no expertise in the matter, has decided that this advice isn't important, and that the dog isn't necessary or welcome with Kenner at his school.
Kenner's father, Craig, has taken the board to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
Craig says the board, by refusing to have the dog at St. Kateri Catholic Elementary School in Kitchener, is discriminating against Kenner because of his disability.
Two pieces of information suggest that he is probably right.
First, there is not a single service dog at any Catholic school in Waterloo Region. That suggests an unwelcoming attitude to them. By contrast, there are 12 service dogs at Waterloo Region's public schools. This information was obtained by Craig through an access to information request.
Second, Craig testified at the hearing on Wednesday that a senior board official warned him if the board were to allow service dogs, it would be inundated with requests by others for service animals including "service ponies, service snakes, service ducks."
He told the hearing that he found the comment "condescending."
After the hearing he added: "I felt she was belittling the role the service dog plays for someone with autism."
Indeed, it's hard to know how to take that comment any other way.
Laura Shoemaker was at the hearing but declined to comment on her remark. Board education director Loretta Notten, who also attended, said she wouldn't comment on the individual comment either, but added that in general animals other than dogs are used for service purposes.
Listening to the detailed cross-examination of Craig on Wednesday was like hearing two very different sides of one story.
The lawyer for the board kept emphasizing how well Kenner was doing without the dog in school. His report card said he was meeting the learning goals of his grade level, with grades of B and B-plus. When he needed a break from tasks that are difficult for him, he knew how to identify this and retreat to his "quiet place" in the classroom.
Craig gave a completely different view, saying his son's marks had actually dropped, and his behaviour problems were escalating, with frequent screaming fits.
In one episode, Kenner ran away from school, which wouldn't have happened if the dog had been there, Craig said.
The board seems determined to prove that Kenner doesn't need his dog. But if he didn't need it, why would a pediatrician and a service dog organization have advocated for him to get one?
The hearing isn't over. It resumes in June. But it's already clear that it's not up to the school board to decide whether Kenner needs his service dog, any more than a traffic enforcement officer has the right to question why you have a parking pass for handicapped spots on your dashboard.
"I'm hoping to achieve not only my son being allowed to have his autism service dog in the classroom with him, but any other kids that need this accommodation as my son does," said Fee.
The question is: Why is the board trying so hard to keep service dogs out of its schools?
Information taken from several news sources.
PLEASE take the time to support this very important cause in regards to our children having their human right recognized.
Special needs children have rights and needs too.
Thank You very much,
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