Debate

Parent Sues School District Over Service Dog For Son With Cerebral Palsy

Anthony Marchante, 6, has cerebral palsy. He requires the assistance of his medium-sized terrier service dog, Stevie, to alert others to oncoming convulsions and to help calm him down.

Anthony's mother has filed a federal lawsuit against the Broward School Board, claiming discrimination because of too many barriers to gain approval for her son's service dog to be allowed on campus with him.

Anthony's mother, Monica Alboniga, was told by the district that she had to provide liability insurance for the dog and additional vaccinations that did not exist.

The district later waived those requirements, but asked Albonigo to provide a handler for the dog since Anthony was not capable of serving as one.

In the suit against the school district, Albonigo claims the district is "inflicting extreme hardship on her and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and The Rehabilitation Act by implementing excessive procedural hurdles," reports the SunSentinel.

Albonigo wants the district to amend its policies and pay her legal fees.

The school district declined to comment on the lawsuit.

They do admit that they are discussing implementing a new service animal policy, but it would still require a handler to be provided and insurance.

"There's not a lot of [school] districts that have a policy," said compliance director Dildra Martin-Ogburn to the SunSentinel. "Service animals have been around for a long time but it's just coming on board where they are coming to schools."

At this time, Stevie is the only service animal in the district.  

Alboniga goes to school with Stevie each day acting as his handler; she is not allowed to help Anthony in any other way.

"I have to be in complete silence all the time just looking at the dog. You always feel uncomfortable," said Alboniga.

Furthermore, adds Albonigo, Stevie does not eat or drink at the school and rarely does he need to go to the bathroom.

Matthew Dietz, a disability rights lawyer representing Alboniga, believes school districts should train classroom aides to handle service dogs.

"When you are dealing with a seriously disabled child like Anthony, you're feeding, you're toileting, you're doing all these personal services," he said. "It would be no problem for that to be an additional duty."
 

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