After Court Battle, Florida Judge Rules Service Dog Can Attend School With Special Needs Student (VIDEO)

7-year-old Anthony Merchante has cerebral palsy, spastic paralysis, a seizure disorder, and he cannot speak. He is wheelchair-bound and his medicalert dog, Stevie—a white and tan Staffordshire Terrier—is tethered to the chair almost all of the time.

Anthony lives with his mother, 37-year-old Monica Alboniga, and his 5-month-old sister. His mother went to great lengths and great expense—on a single income—to find a service dog and have him trained to the specifics provided by Assistance Dog International Standards.

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Whenever Anthony is about to have a seizure, Stevie lets him know. When he is having a seizure or trouble breathing Stevie alerts an adult and returns to Anthony to stay by his side. There is also a sensor mat, that when Stevie jumps on it, activates an alarm. Stevie also wears a service dog vest that carries Anthony’s medication and supplies. This is very comforting to his mother, as Stevie has saved Anthony’s life on more than one occasion.

Anthony’s mother approached the school board about Stevie attending school with Anthony in May 2013.  They replied in August 2013 that Stevie must have vaccinations that rarely apply to dogs, as well as have Monica obtain liability insurance and a “handler” for Stevie.  Of course, that’s impossible on her single income.

When Anthony started kindergarten, Monica attended the first 4 months with him, as Stevie’s handler.  After that, the school appointed a custodian to be Stevie’s handler “to walk Stevie alongside [Anthony] with a leash, instead of allowing Stevie to be attached” to Anthony’s wheelchair, and to take Stevie outside to eliminate.  The custodian also prevented the other children from trying to play with Stevie.

School administrators felt all this was unnecessary since the school staff was already trained to assist Anthony and his particular needs.  They also asserted that it was not reasonable that the district be responsible for the cost of Stevie’s handler, even though they were the ones requiring it.

The Miami Herald reports:

Anthony found a friend in the U.S. Justice Department. The department’s civil rights division enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation passed by Congress in 1990. Last month, the DOJ weighed in on the lawsuit, arguing that the school board “fundamentally misunderstands” ADA regulations, which require that “public entities generally must permit individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals.”

“Congress specifically intended that individuals with disabilities not be separated from their service animals, even in schools,” the DOJ wrote.

Fortunately earlier this month, Fort Lauderdale Federal Judge Judith Beth Bloom, ruled that Stevie be permitted to accompany Anthony to school, without all the cumbersome requirements.

WATCH and see how Stevie has changed Anthony’s life:



Featured Image is a screenshot from the video above.

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