Should this student be allowed to take his assistance dog to Murray Bridge High School?
A Murray Bridge woman claims that the school is preventing her son from taking his assistance dog along in coming weeks.
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Assistance dogs are trained to help people with physical conditions, such as those involving vision impairment, mobility issues or potential seizures.
But to what extent can a school accommodate a student’s need for an assistance dog versus the physical and psychological needs of other students?
Murrianna Reese claims that Murray Bridge High School is refusing to allow her son Logan’s assistance dog proper access to the school when Logan begins year 7 this year.
According to Ms Reese, Logan lives with multiple disabilities, including epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism and acquired brain injury.
His dog Hunter helps Logan to feel secure and to alert people if something’s wrong.
“If I have any seizures, he’ll let somebody know – mostly by nibbling on someone’s pants … or he’ll make a sound,” Logan said.
Hunter saved Logan at Fraser Park Primary School late last year.
“Hunter let the teacher know that Logan had a seizure,” Ms Reese said.
“He barks to get adult attention and then lays down with Logan to let him know he’s not alone.
“Logan’s getting to the age where the brain goes through a lot of chemical changes, adolescence, so he might have more seizures.”
Ms Reese claimed that MBHS had not allowed Logan to have proper access to the school with Hunter, and that the school’s offer would involve making her son “leave class early and be late for every class”.
Ms Reese accepted that dogs might trigger negative emotions in some students.
However, she stressed that having an assistance dog at MBHS could be an opportunity for a “teaching moment”.
“At Fraser Park, they taught kids how to behave and not to run up to them, so it teaches them about assistance dogs,” she said.
What is the legal position on assistance dogs?
The Legal Services Commission of South Australia’s Law Handbook states that people with a disability “are entitled to take an accredited assistance dog onto any place or premises”.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 also indicates that it is unlawful for an educational authority to limit a student with a disability’s access to “any benefit provided by the educational authority”.
However, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 suggests that “unjustifiable hardship” may be a valid reason to consider in relation to meeting the needs of a student with a disability.
School needs to consider all students’ needs, principal says
Principal Ruth Mussger stated that, in relation to Logan’s assistance dog, the school needed to consider the physical, cultural and religious needs of other students.
“Risk assessments also need to be carried out and safety plans developed with families in relation to other students who may have allergies, may be fearful of dogs or have cultural or religious reasons for not wanting to engage with a dog,” she said.
MBHS had a strong record of supporting a diverse student body, including students with disability, she said.
“Murray Bridge High School is a vibrant, welcoming school that caters to a wide range of students from across the Murraylands,” she said.
“The school prides itself on finding out and addressing the needs of all its students to the best of its ability and resources, including those with special needs.”
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