In a previous AC article it was revealed the discrimination involving a trained service dog owned by Miss Heather Jones, a student in the Killeen Independent School District. While this reporter was told that the handler and her dog were in school there was more that was not said. Unfortunately this paints a much different view of cooperation by the Killeen ISD to comply with the ADA act which is supposed to provide protection from discrimination of all with disabilities.
While school officials assure the callers and media that they are working to resolve the issue the means of resolution involves more discrimination. When Miss Jones had multiple seizures in class a month ago the teachers did not recognize it, did not call for an ambulance and informed her mother to come get her but did not say that she was having seizures.
The school district claimed initially there was no other service dogs in the district. They did not mention the golden retreiver therapy dog that is in a special needs classroom. The school district has in action painted a much different and more threatening picture than what they are saying in words. Indeed the school board itself did not know it was not resolved until yesterday.
The “experience in school was horrifying” Heather’s mother Andrea said. Greeted by the principle, Amy Foster and a police officer she thought it was to explain to the other children that Della was a working service dog and they were not to play with or distract her. Instead they stepped into a long hall to find eight police officers waiting, falling in behind them as they walked down the hallway. Why does a school district need to employ these tactics and intimidation? They were then blindsided with a meeting, without their attorney present and a form placed before Andrea to sign. She was told whether she signed it or not it was in effect.
Heather’s father recently retired from the military with a traumatic injury after 16 years in service to and defense of our country. Heather has had seizures since she was a baby but doctors could not find a “reason” and until age 3 they insisted there was nothing wrong with her. When she had a seizure in front of the doctor epilepsy was ruled out but why the seizures happened was undetermined. With three special needs children there is Della on duty, a corgi in training and the third child may need a service dog for another medical condition.
Just a couple weeks ago Nanette Ballou had an issue in the local Taco Bell when after she ordered dinner and sat down to eat she was asked to leave with her dog, a leader dog who was in harness and had his credentials as a certified leader dog. Leader dogs are trained at a different school than guide dogs, but for the same job and for someone with limited vision it allows her to live as normal of a life as possible. This is what Heather Jones wants. As normal of a life as possible. Instead there is harassment because of the use of a service dog, just as Nanette Ballou underwent when six officers showed up to remove her from the Taco Bell restaurant.
Unlike the school staff who did not recognize she was having seizures, Della not only knows but alerts before they happen. Recently on an outing Della did not want Heather to get in the water, pushing her back. An hour later she had a seizure. This is a specific job that she has learned on her own – not all dogs have the sensitivity to pick up on changes as do seizure alert dogs.
So it was in view of the life changes that Della has become more than just a dog. In a written piece called the “Unbreakable Bonds” Heather documents her time with Della. An AKC registered dog Della and Heather made a team showing in Junior Handler classes where they won classes. “One of the things I like about Della the most is her loyalty and the fact tht she puts the people who she loves first before ever showing signs of thinking about herself.”
Heather explains Della is nationally certified as a service dog, picking up dropped items, opening doors, trained in search and scent detection. “The most wonderful, extraordinary thing that Della does is something she has never been “trained” to do. Della can detect when I am about to have a seizure” Heather writes. After her stay in the hospital Della had gone with her trainer but became agitated at midnight. She refused to settle down and was so upset he called Heather’s mom to check on her. Ten minutes after the phone call Heather had a grand mal seizure – a life threatening situation that Della knows instinctively is different from the others.
Despite this proven history of service as an alert dog the Killeen ISD is violating ADA statutes. The documentation put in front of the family included a demand for immunization records, a veterinarian statement she is in good health, a doctor’s prescription for the dog, liability insurance policy and certification of the training. Many of these documents have already been provided but requiring liability insurance over and above normal is discriminatory for a service animal.
Additionally the agreement holds the parent responsible for supervision and care of the dog including paying for training of the school community in order to accommodate the dog in the school district. It excluded her from some areas of the campus and required a liability and damage waiver to be signed – this is in the documentation Ms Jones said she was told was valid whether she signed it or not. The wording of the agreement would allow denial of an education by removing Heather from the schools for any real or perceived ‘inconvenience’ caused by Della simply doing her job.
As if that was not enough violations of the ADA provisions that allow service dogs access anywhere, Dr. Young commented disparagingly “Now we have our own little Rosa Parks don’t we?”
This is a well trained competition dog that happens to have extraordinary talent, which has been witnessed, documented and certified, to do a job that many dogs and no people can do. Texas law provides protection from discrimination of people with service dogs.
Heather’s father gave 16 years of his life to this country so that we could live with dignity and in safety. The very least that we owe them is enforcing the laws that protect the disabled from discrimination – and in this case it is not just discrimination against service dogs but Della in particular. All business and public facilities are required to follow ADA laws. Discrimination is unacceptable.