Ohio district transfers autistic student with a service dog due to teacher’s allergies

The mother of an elementary school student who uses a service dog was told that her daughter would not be allow to attend the school as planned, says The Columbus Dispatch, because the special education teacher assigned to teach the student is is severely allergic to dog dander.  The mother was told her daughter and the dog must transfer to another school, where an allergy-free special-education teacher will instruct the student.

Charla Gretz, the mother of Shyanna Gretz, insists the transfer is unacceptable.  She asked why a different teacher could not be assigned rather than make her daughter change schools, which involves a 30 to 40 minute bus ride.  According to Gretz, Shyanna’s autism includes being overwhelmed by sensory issues and not coping well with change, and a longer bus ride and switching schools would exacerbate both.

Superintendent Carl D. Martin said the dog is welcome in the district, where about 20% of students have an identified disability.  However, the accommodations made for Shyanna and her dog must be balanced against the rights of the allergic teacher, and moving the student to a different school is a reasonable solution, Martin said.  He also disputed the time that Gretz gave for the bus ride.  The elementary schools are 5 miles apart, and Shyanna would not spend significantly more time on the bus, he said.

The issue of service dogs and classroom allergies has surfaced nationally, said Sara Clark, an attorney with the Ohio School Boards Association.  Neither she nor an Ohio Department of Education spokesman knew of other cases in Ohio.

Federal law is clear that schools cannot turn away a student using a service dog because a teacher or another student is allergic, Clark said.  The recommended solution is to put the student with the service dog and the student or teacher with the allergy in different classrooms, she said.  There is a legal obligation to accommodate both, Clark said.

Shyanna’s parents plan to home school her while they present the issue to the school board.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, 8/23/13, By Mary Beth Lane

[Editor's Note: In April 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Palm Beach Post reporting that members of the Palm Beach County School District’s (PBCSD) board were expected to vote on a proposed “service animal” policy that Deputy General Counsel Laura Pincus said basically will formalize district procedures that already have allowed several service dogs on a “case-by-case” basis.]

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