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School and family argue over service dog

School And Family Argue Over Service Dog

An Arkansas family whose son requires a service dog is taking action against his school. The family says that the school is forcing it to pay $500 a month for a private handler -- and the story gets a little more complicated than that.

KATV introduces us to 7-year-old Zachary Sorrells and his service dog, Majesty. Zachary has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and Majesty helps warn adults that a seizure is coming. At first, Zachary's mother said that the school would not let Majesty attend, then decided she could but needed a handler.

Now, the Sorrells admit adult supervision of the dog is necessary given Zachary's age, but they don't think they should have to pay for a private handler. So let's take a look at the laws that deal with cases like these. There are two:

First, there's Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which says public entities must "provide auxiliary aids at no additional cost to individuals with disabilities." Aids, for example, include interpreters or Brailled materials.

Then there's Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which says staff at state and local government services "are not required to provide care or food for a service animal."

So here's where the differing interpretations come from: that word "care." In an interview with Fox News, Michelle Sorrells says that the tasks of the handler are minimal.

​​"I'm a teacher every day. And holding Majesty's leash in the hallway with Zachary is no different than holding his hand."

Basically, she's saying a private, trained handler might not be completely necessary -- and that any adult already working at the school could adequately do the job.

But Superintendent Tony Thurman told Fox News a handler is necessary and that the school doesn't have to provide that person.

He cited that ADA provision we mentioned earlier -- about staff not having to provide care or food for a service animal.

​We took a look at Section 7:25 of the district's own guidelines, which in part reiterate, "The District and its staff are not responsible for the care or supervision of a service animal brought onto district property."

Now here's another point of difference between the Sorrells and the school -- in fact, the real gist of the argument: The family says Majesty's presence with Zachary at school is necessary and can save his life.

Look deeper into the the FoxNews.com online article, and it appears that the district superintendent is suggesting Zachary doesn't​ need Majesty -- at least not at school: "The most important aspect of this entire issue is the fact that the child can be provided with an education with or without the service animal."

If the Sorrells family does pay a private handler $500 a month, that would be $4,500 for a nine-month school year. Assuming Zachary needed a service dog's aide through age 18, the family is destined to pay almost $50,000.

According to Service Dog Central, only 15 percent of dogs can naturally predict a seizure, and how they do it is still largely a mystery.

The two leading theories are: they have the ability to detect changes in the person's biochemistry or they can see tiny motor changes that are unnoticeable to humans.

The Sorrells have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

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sparrca July 16 2014 at 5:38 AM

Ohhh for God sake!
It's a dog, that is good with kids....
The school need to get off it's "high horse"
Give the dog a bowl of water in corner of the
class room and give a walk a few times
a day....
You administrators think you can handle that!

Flag Reply +56 rate up
15 replies
johnb5137 July 16 2014 at 8:16 AM

They don't have a problem putting guns in schools but this poor kid cant bring his service dog. We are one backwards ass country. Sorry its true. We are stupid in this country.

Flag Reply +45 rate up
11 replies
skymett8 July 16 2014 at 8:04 AM

I don't see an issue here because his teacher had no problem holding the leash for the child. As for the superintendent he needs to get off the family back. They pay taxes so he can get paid. HOME SCHOOL NO! CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY TENDS TO DO MUCH BETTER WHEN THEY INTERACT WITH OTHER KIDS.

Flag Reply +37 rate up
6 replies
rjen164497 July 16 2014 at 7:03 AM

I feel terrible for the child. There a point where people are not entitled to everything they want. The child is already in a position where he knows he is different. The parents who brought him into the world should provide for his needs including maybe a special school or help. It is called parenting your child. That is their job not everyone elses. Stop the ENTITLEMENT BS.

Flag Reply +35 rate up
24 replies
auctionsurplus July 16 2014 at 7:15 AM

I'm sorry, but I agree with the school. A service dog is very different from a pet. The handler will also have to make sure other kids aren't trying to play with it or touch it. It will need access to water, etc. Thousands+ of kids with CP have a human aid in school and a service dog at home. This could open a whole new can of worms.
There are rules about things like nuts, etc in schools due to allergies..........MANY kids have allergies to dogs.
The service dog will be a distraction to other young kids.
There's no reason the family can't either accept a human aide like other SN students or homeschool him.

Flag Reply +29 rate up
22 replies
jktkw July 16 2014 at 5:35 AM

home school....just saying

Flag Reply +27 rate up
10 replies
blusasha July 16 2014 at 5:09 AM

Wouldn't be nice if there was someone who could volunteer to be the dogs handler...unfortunately, I am not in a position to help - maybe someone will be able to step up to the plate and help. I commend the teacher for holding the leash. Nice.

Flag Reply +21 rate up
2 replies
Elizabeth blusasha July 16 2014 at 5:48 AM

Well said. However, I see no reason why a 7 year old cannot hold the leash of a service dog. They are very well trained, and while wearing the harness are not distracted by anything. If the dog is being "handled" (whatever the school means by that) by someone else, then it is not working. Sounds as if they just don't want it there.

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1 reply
alduris Elizabeth July 16 2014 at 6:49 AM

This child has cerebral palsy. He may not have the physical ability to hold the leash. Also, he may have other issues going on( i.e. attention ) that could make it difficult to hold the leash. There is no mention about the type of seizures this boy is having. He could possibly be having absence seizures( absentmindedness) all day long and that could make holding a leash very difficult. The parents should be meeting with the school holding an IEP meeting and getting a paraprofessional. Perhaps they need to get outside professionals involved who can document the student's need for this dog. I hope this isn't just to draw attention to this issue. IT should be all about the child and his needs.

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user406324 blusasha July 16 2014 at 9:45 AM

Maybe the parent can be the dog's handler. That might be considered old fashioned....having a parent accepting responsibility for taking care of their own kid...OH MY!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
2 replies
Kate user406324 July 16 2014 at 11:56 AM

The parents have taken responsibility: they provided him with a service dog so that he can attend public school like any other child. Feeding and clothing Zach, and handling his medical expenses is also taking responsibility, and requires something you may have heard of, called WORKING.

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mcushi user406324 July 16 2014 at 2:16 PM

Clearly you do not have a special needs child. I am sure these parents have already got their hands full.

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sc4rltt July 16 2014 at 9:01 AM

Given all the stories we read about schools these days, there is no way I'd let any school tell me that if my child could not have a service dog with him if he had a debilitating illness that could prove fatal without the proper and prompt care. Dogs that can sense epileptic seizures might be a scientific mystery, but they do save lives. My sister has a dog that has never been trained as an epilepsy service dog, yet that little rescue mutt has warned her of an impending seizure many, many times. Who are these school administrators to say otherwise?

Flag Reply +14 rate up
4 replies
palmejn July 16 2014 at 9:55 AM

As grandparents of a special needs child, we are appalled at the actions of these moronic school Administrators as they provide yet another outrageous example of the backwards ways of the South. This is a shameful example of the failure of our schools and the Empire -Fifedom mind-set of school Administrators. Our schools are to teach children and ensure they achieve the skills to be productive. The financial burdens of caring for special needs kids are horrific - 95% of marriages with special needs kids end in divorce. The Mom's end up carrying the burdens; the Dads find a new hotty rather than care for the child. Time to get the Feds involved as the Rehabilitation Acts should take precendence and this young man should have his service dog. The school Administrators have no common sense and no heart. child. Budgets for special needs kids while the taxpayers pay for this pres to have luxurious vacations, Too many posters have no clue about these kids. We are one screwed nation.

Flag Reply +14 rate up
4 replies
arwenevenstar42 July 16 2014 at 9:24 AM

I understand the child needs the dog, but I am struggling to understand why the cost isn't covered under their medical care insurance. This isn't something the school should have to be responsible for.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
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