Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Family Loses Fight for Autistic Son to Have Service Dog in Class

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Family Loses Fight for Autistic Son to Have Service Dog in Class

Article excerpt

Service dog not allowed in class for autistic boy

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TORONTO - Ontario's human rights tribunal has ruled that a nine-year-old autistic boy can't bring his service dog with him into class.

The decision says Kenner Fee's family failed to prove that having his black Labrador Ivy in the classroom would help him with his education.

Adjudicator and tribunal vice-chair Laurie Letheren found that the Waterloo Catholic District School Board took all necessary steps to evaluate whether the dog was needed in the classroom, and supported the board's decision not to allow the service animal to sit beside Kenner during lessons.

The tribunal heard from Kenner's family that his autism leaves him prone to agitation, emotional outbursts and even bolting from his surroundings, but that having Ivy beside him significantly helps regulate his behaviour.

Letheren accepted that evidence, but also accepted testimony from school board staff suggesting Kenner was performing well in class without Ivy, and that any problems he was encountering would not necessarily be addressed by the dog's presence.

Fee's lawyer Laura McKeen says the family is crushed by the decision and is considering their next steps, including Kenner's future education plans. She says the Fees have the right to appeal the ruling, but have not yet decided if they will do so.

"They truly believe that Kenner's service animal Ivy is essential to his entire life, including and specifically his education," she said. "The Fees are devastated by the impact that decision is going to have on Kenner going forward."

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board did not comment specifically on the decision other than to acknowledge the outcome in their favour.

"We work alongside families to make student-centred, individualized decisions that we collectively believe will allow them to flourish," Director of Education Loretta Notten said in a statement. "Student success is of paramount importance to us and we strive to bring each one to their fullest potential."

The Aug. 30 tribunal decision chronicles a fight Kenner's family began in April 2014 to get Ivy into the boy's class, something that has not been allowed to date.

The tribunal heard that Kenner had been matched with Ivy after training with the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, an internationally accredited school that provides service dogs to address a range of disabilities.

Kenner's father, Craig Fee, told the tribunal that Ivy's presence had made a noticeable difference in Kenner's life and helped regulate his behaviour. When he sought permission to bring Ivy into Kenner's classroom, however, the request was denied.

Board employees told the tribunal there were concerns that Ivy would set Kenner back in his independence, adding that he may rely too much on the dog rather than working directly with staff and peers. …

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