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Service dog dispute at Woodsville Elementary



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Andrew Riley, a Woodsville Elementary School first grader, and his canine friend Carina are inseparable. The seizure detection dog safeguards Andrew's well being. Last week, Andrew's mother Jamie spoke about her son's important bond with Carina, as well as an ongoing dispute with SAU 23 about how best to ensure Andrew's safety during the school day. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
February 05, 2014
N. HAVERHILL — Andrew Riley relies on his friend Carina, a service dog. Andrew, who has suffered several health problems in his young life, can have his seizures detected by Carina, who then activates a nerve stimulator designed to protect Andrew. His mom, Jamie, spoke last week about a dispute the family has with School Administrative Unit (SAU) 23 regarding the district's obligations in the case.

The SAU office was contacted for this story. Superintendent Bruce Labs declined comment, due to the fact that the case is a legal matter.

Carina became Andrew's service dog in October 2010 after a family trip to Ohio to pick her up. Jamie said the SAU had some reluctance, but a July 2011 decision allowed Carina into Woodsville Elementary as Andrew's service dog. Later, Riley added, the school noted some concerns about Carina's behavior. Last week, Riley countered the idea that Carina is difficult to control. "She's a very well behaved service animal," Riley suggested.

Riley said $14,000 was raised for Carina's seizure detection training, which occurred last year. Dogs with this type of training can provide comfort for people before, during, and after seizures.

Riley said the recent dispute with SAU 23 includes whether Carina should be tethered to Andrew. The strap between the two assists with Carina's seizure detection role.

"The district won't let us tether her," Riley said last week. She added the SAU has noted liability issues involved if the district is responsible for both the recommended tethering and holding Carina's leash.

Riley said the family has also been responsible for hiring a leash holder while Andrew is at school. The SAU, Riley added, has noted the family is responsible for leash holding costs under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Leash holding expenses have placed a burden on the family. However, Riley said the family is focused on what's best for Andrew. Allen is Andrew's dad, while his siblings are Jessica and Alex.

A Boston-based attorney from the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education has been involved in Andrew's case. The office, which does not comment on specific cases, authored an agreement with the school district regarding Andrew's care. "The investigation is closed," Riley said, when discussing the status of OCR's involvement.

Riley noted the family has had some contact with the school board, but no progress has occurred in recent months. Originally, Riley said the family was optimistic about a resolution to Andrew's case in a way that was satisfactory to all sides. She does not hold that optimism any more.

The school board has argued, Riley continued, that the sessions discussing Andrew's case be conducted in non-public session. The Rileys informed the board of the family's interest in public discussion of the matter, but the board has argued for the need to protect Andrew's privacy.

The family has contacted a personal attorney in an effort to move the matter forward. However, Jamie said the legal expense is excessive. As a result, the family's dispute with SAU 23 remains deadlocked.

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