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Banning of Autistic Child’s Service Aid Dog Leads to Lawsuit Against School District

A lawsuit has been filed by the parents of a 5 year old autistic boy against the Columbia (Illinois) School District for forbidding their son’s service dog from accompanying the boy to classes. A Monroe County judge is expected to rule this week on whether the dog is allowed to attend class with the autistic child. The Monroe County Circuit Court Judge, Dennis Doyle, promised he would make a decision before the first day of class, August 24, 2009.

corbin-service-dog-pics.jpgFive year old Carter Kalbfleisch was only 18 months old when diagnosed with Autism. Carter experiences acute outbursts, often eats inappropriate things like grass and rocks, and runs away from his parents and teachers.

Doctors at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center recommended a specially trained service dog for Carter. The dog and training have cost the family about $10,000.

(Photo of Carter & Corbin courtesy of STLTODAY.COM)

Carter’s parents have noticed many positive changes since working with Corbin, a one year old Bouvier. Carter bonded instantly with the dog and now has minimal outbursts while in public. The boy’s parents have even noticed Carter is interacting with people.

School officials did not provide a reason for banning Corbin, but rumors indicated there were concerns of other students with allergies and that there may be students who fear dogs. Carter’s parents acknowledged they would have argued the decision within the school, but a decision would have taken nine months.

Children and adults with disabilities often use service dogs like Corbin and such dogs are becoming increasingly popular with people with Autism. Studies show children and adults who suffer from autism relax and open up more easily when a service dog is near. People with autism are known to have severe emotional and sensory overload, which makes it harder for them to deal with everyday surroundings and social interactions.

United States federal law protects the rights of the disabled to use service dogs. Illinois law permits the use and presence of a service dog in school, which is the law the Kalbfeisches’ are depending on. The disability laws have plenty of gray area. For example, small companies can forbid service animals if they are too disruptive, and school environments are also subject to such interpretation.

If you are a school administrator with a question about special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, feel free to call Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.