A local family is spending the majority of their week at Human Rights Tribunal hearings as they continue to fight for their son’s service dog to be allowed in the classroom.
For three years, the Fee family has taken on the Waterloo Catholic District School Board– as they’ve rejected the family’s request for a service animal to accompany their son to class.
Nine-year-old Kenner Fee has austim, and his family says his service dog, Ivy, helps him tremendously by calming him down when he gets anxious.
Kenner’s father, Craig Fee, says his son’s behaviour without the dog has become unmanageable at school– often running from class and disrupting lessons.
According to Fee, the board decided last year that Kenner did not need the dog in the classroom. “The Superintendent of Special Education decided that my 9-year-old son does not ‘need’ his Autism Service Dog in the classroom, citing her right to re-determine ‘need’ based on the school not being a public space during the school day,” says Fee.
Fee adds that he ultimately hopes this lengthy battle will help other families across Ontario.
“I want the precedent set that any kid that needs a service dog in a provincial school can have it.”
As another hearing wrapped up Wednesday afternoon, Fee spoke with 570 News — and said a report presented by the Catholic School Board had some serious contradictions regarding his son.
“The school board’s stance has been that Kenner is NOT a flight risk, but they presented a report which outlines the many times that Kenner has left the classroom. It’s a little difficult to have someone tell you that your son isn’t a flight risk, but then detail all the times he’s tried to leave school.”
Fee adds that his family was shocked to see this report, as he says the school never contacted them about any of the outlined incidents.
“It’s very disturbing that my wife, Amy, and I had not received any communication from the school about these incidents. In one case, Kenner apparently tried to leave the school through a window– and we received no information about that.”
In a release, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board says they have set their expectations appropriately, and will not comment further on specifics of the case.
The school board is expected to provide an updated statement to 570 News sometime Thursday morning.
The tribunal continues throughout the week, and is expected to wrap up later this month.
You can see a full statement from the Waterloo Catholic District School Board below.
“The purpose and passion of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board is to meet the learning needs of all of our students within a faith-based and inclusive learning environment. Our inclusive classrooms have been a point of pride for many years. Everyday our 3,600 committed staff members support our 21,000 students to help them grow into strong, engaged learners in safe and healthy environments. We embrace our responsibilities to meet the learning needs of all our students, as well as our obligation to provide students with a safe and healthy learning environment.
Requests to attend school with a service dog are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For some students, attending school with a certified service dog is an accommodation that can assist the student to access the curriculum, build independence and integrate more fully into the school community. Like all boards in the Province of Ontario, we have a process to determine how to best meet the learning needs of each student.
In circumstances where a student does not have the ability to be their dog’s “handler”, that is to supervise their dog, and give their dog commands to provide them with service, the Board must carefully consider the costs and benefits of assigning an Educational Assistant to look after the dog, when that same Educational Assistant could be working directly with the student to meet their learning needs.
As we build spaces of inclusive and engaged learning, we continue to strive to balance the needs of all students in our schools. Our clear and uncompromised goal is to provide the best way to ensure that all children in a classroom are getting the best education possible.
As always, Waterloo Catholic is open to discussing all accommodation requests with parents of students with special needs on an individual basis. We are confident that our commitment to helping all our students thrive in their classroom will allow us to nurture every student to reach their full potential.”