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Schools Agree To Allow Service Dog On Trial Basis

9:18 PM, Jan 6, 2011   |    comments
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FORT BELVOIR, Va. (WUSA) -- Fairfax County Schools have come to a temporary solution to allow a boy and his service dog into school on a trial basis. His father must accompany the two as the FCPS decides if it's OK.

But the family says they, and others, should not have to jump through such hoops just to get their child into school.

Twelve-year-old Andrew Stevens suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. About a month ago, after raising $20,000 for a specially trained seizure dog, Alliya arrived. She's a five-year-old German Shepherd trained to recognize a seizure.

But the the Fairfax County school system refused to allow Alliya in school. It's brought outrage from the community, and has put the Fairfax County School system under fire.

Andrew's mother, Nancy Stevens and his father, Angelo Stevens say the temporary agreement is a "small victory." Nancy Stevens says, "I'm shocked. I'm appalled this can happen in this country where they can deny my son his dog."

The school system does allow service dogs on certain conditions.

They want to guarantee the safety of the other children in Andrew's class.

Fairfax County Public School Spokesman Paul Regnier says, "We don't want a dog handler where we can't count on him to be able to handle the dog."

Nancy says, "There is no safety issue. She's well behaved. She's going to do what Andrews tells it to do and sits by his side and she will be there in the event a seizure comes."

Andrew has an education level of a kindergartner. His family says Andrew is a certified handler, but the certification does not come from an organization recognized by the Virginia Department of Education.

Cost is not the only reason stopping the family from getting the required certification.

Nancy says, "Money is one thing but most of them won't touch the dog because they didn't train the dog."

Regnier says, "It's not that we are cold hearted. It's not that we don't want this child to be served. We want all the services he needs. But we don't want something where a dog is not under control, possibly not under control. There are other kids in the school. We need to settle that, and we need to settle out what can the dog do the adults cannot do."

Alliya wears a magnet on her collar and when Andrew senses a seizure coming on she sniffs or licks Andrew. Being close to Andrew gets the magnet near Andrew's chest where it triggers a device Andrew wears that's connected to his brain to alleviate or stop the seizure.

Andrew's father Angelo Stevens says, "Her ability to sense seizures gives us one more hand to fight epilepsy."

There are some who are skeptical about dogs that can sense the onset of seizures seconds before it happens, but it's not what the Stevens family believes.

School officials say they can talk about this case because the family has signed a release. They also say the decision to not allow Alliya into the school came from the Fairfax County School system and not from any teacher or principal at Fort Belvoir Elementary.

Regnier says, "If it was something where there was a possibility the child's life was in danger and that only the dog could do, that's something we would obviously do something about."

Regnier says Andrew had been attending school this fall for several hours a week without a service dog.

The Stevens family says it was before they got Alliya, and they feel incredibly nervous leaving their son alone. They say he gets a tutor now and they come to the house.

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