SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Many disabled people say that life without a service animal is unthinkable. Now, public institutions are required to admit service animals without question, but some public schools claim they cannot handle the disruption of a dog in a busy classroom. As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, disabled students are hoping new federal guidelines will help them avoid legal battles over their animals.
LARRY ABRAMSON: Everyone at Sharando High School knows Nathan Selove. He's the kid with the dog.
NATHAN SELOVE: Actually she's the only dog in the Frederick County public school system so far.
ABRAMSON: You would hardly know that Nathan has Asperger's Syndrome, that he sometimes has terrifying meltdowns in class. That's why Sylvia is here.
SELOVE: And when I feel the need to pet her, I just sort of lean down and pet her and sometimes, like when I get really stressed out, which doesn't actually happen that often anymore, she'll get on my lap."
ABRAMSON: History teacher Doreen Pauley says Sylvia is just part of the class now.
DOREEN PAULEY: If he needs her, she's there. If he doesn't, she's just quiet. She's a good dog.
ABRAMSON: Not every parent has gotten the same reception. Attorney Kathleen Mehfoud represents a number of Virginia school districts. She says, many schools worry they may violate the rights of other students by admitting a service dog.
KATHLEEN MEHFOUD: For example, there are a number of students and staff who may be allergic to dogs.
ABRAMSON: In Orange County, California, Milka Ciriacks has been fighting to have Eddie the service dog accompany her six-year-old son Caleb to school. Caleb is severely autistic and he used to run away all the time.
MILKA CIRIACKS: It didn't really like make sense to me until he had episode where Caleb took off. And then it kind of like - it, that I was like the big, red flag and I'm like, oh my gosh. We need something else
ABRAMSON: For the past year, the Cypress School District has refused to allow Eddie into the school. Milka Ciriacks has turned to federal court. The Cypress district would not talk on tape, but in court filings officials argue that Caleb is making good progress without a dog. The district worries that being tied to an animal will reduce his independence, but Milka Ciriacks says without Eddy, her son is having outbursts in school.
CIRIACKS: His behaviors are really more calm at home or when we're out with Eddie, as opposed to I don't know what's going on at school that's really increasing these aggressive behaviors.
ABRAMSON: Schools' attorney Kathleen Mehfoud says, it's about time.
MEHFOUD: We have dealt with requests for service snakes and service monkeys in the past.
ABRAMSON: Unidentified Woman: Sylvia, let's get all this stuff so we don't...
ABRAMSON: Sylvia gets to run around on the Selove family's 11-acre property. The family home is a bit of service dog heaven. Father, Ramon Selove also has Asperger syndrome, and he takes his dog, Cori, to his job as a college professor. But Ramon Selove has this caution.
RAMON SELOVE: Service dogs are a lot of work.
ABRAMSON: Training can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It involves weeks of classroom work that can be challenging for kids like Nathan.
SELOVE: But he was so motivated by his desire to have this dog that he was willing to do things that he wouldn't have been willing to do otherwise.
ABRAMSON: Larry Abramson, NPR News.
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