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News - All - 10 Sep 2019

News Item 28 of 4645 

Miscellaneous: 10 Sep 2019
Schools must have policies on service dogs but could still forbid them

Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP Amy Fee talks to her son, Kenner, 11, next to his service dog, Rickman, and next to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce in Kitchener on Monday. - Mathew McCarthy , Waterloo Region Record

KITCHENER Ontario school boards have been told they must craft policies to consider letting service dogs into classrooms. But these policies can also bar dogs from classrooms.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce came to Kitchener Monday to reannounce the approach his Progressive Conservative government unveiled almost a year ago.

"I had tears in my eyes hearing we're one step closer to where we need to be," Burlington mother Briana Hamlet said after the announcement. "I don't think we're at the finish line yet."

Hamlet is fighting to have her son autistic Darius, 12, bring a dog to his school in Halton Region.

She's urging the government to compel schools to accept autism service dogs, anticipating that schools "will use grey areas" to bar service dogs if other educational supports are available for the child.

Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP Amy Fee defends the approach of her government, saying schools must balance rights.

Children across the province now "have equal opportunity to explain why they need their service animals in school," Fee said. "We do have to look at the allergies, and the phobias, and kind of balance all those out as well."

Almost half of Ontario school boards have no policies on service animals, the province says.

Before her election to the Legislature, Fee lost a human rights challenge to have her autistic son Kenner bring a service dog into St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Elementary School in Kitchener. The new policy of her government doesn't change that.

Fee said her family continues to press the Waterloo Catholic District School Board to allow a dog to accompany Kenner.

Kenner, 11, brought his service dog Rickman to Monday's announcement.

"Service animals help people with hundreds of things. Anxiety, depression, seizures, autism, diabetes," Kenner told a Grade 1 class. "It's very sad that they haven't allowed service animals yet, but they should. I just wish in the future I could become the boss and allow service animals into the school board."

Both English school boards in Waterloo Region already have policies to consider letting service dogs into classrooms. It's expected those policies will be put under review to ensure they align by January with a new provincial directive.

The province's new directive says schools must allow service dogs if it is deemed an "appropriate accommodation" for learning, based in part on documentation, and if it meets human rights obligations as determined on a case-by-case basis.

In Ontario, the right to bring a service dog into a classroom does not outweigh the right to have a dog-free classroom, if the presence of the animal affects the rights of someone else.

The Ministry of Education has told boards they must "hear and address concerns from other students and staff who may come in contact with the service animal, and from parents of other students, including health and safety concerns such as allergies and fear or anxiety associated with the animal."

Lecce reiterated this approach while visiting J.W. Gerth Public School, where there are no service animals. He said the province wants schools to accommodate service animals while recognizing "there's other considerations" related to impacts on other children.

jouthit@therecord.com

Twitter: @OuthitRecord

jouthit@therecord.com

Twitter: @OuthitRecord

by Jeff Outhit Waterloo Region Record/AA
 

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