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Autistic Boy's Service Dog and Handler Kicked Out of His Mandated Test

The Short of It

A boy with autism who is required to take a Florida state-mandated standardized test is denied the opportunity to have his service dog and its handler with him during the exam.

The Lowdown

Elizabeth Shea, the mother of a 9-year-old autistic son, who attends Florida Virtual School, made all the proper arrangements for him to take a test required of him by the state of Florida at a neighborhood school. Shea is a certified trainer for her son's service dog, and she says they were following her son's Individual Education Plan (IEP) when she, her son and his service dog arrived at the testing location.

The IEP is designed to make sure "that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services."

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned when they arrived for the exam.

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According to the Washington Post, the dog wasn't permitted to stay in the room with Shea's son, nor was she, and he became too upset to take the test. Here is how Shea described the incident, in part, to Florida Opt Out:

"Soon after we arrived, I was asked to leave the private testing room, which I cannot legally do as the dog handler. A service dog must be under the control of its handler at all times. I explained the laws. The proctor left the room to call the administrators. While we waited, I texted my son's dad that there was some hold up with me handling the dog. He was dropping our daughter at school nearby, so he came over.

He, the vice principal and the proctor returned to the room, where my son and his dog were quietly sitting and waiting with me. They said I could not stay in the room with my son and his dog. They said I could wait outside the door and peek through a window. But again, I have to hold the dog's leash as I am the handler responsible for him while he works for my son. I told them to just let him minimally participate then, sign the booklet and break the seal."

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She continued:

"They told me this would invalidate his test, to which I agreed. But once again, they would not let him do that with his dog and me in the room, and he was getting visibly upset because they were making me leave the room with his dog. He started crying, babbling loudly and hitting himself in the face. I had to get down on my knees in front of him, face to face, put my hands on his shoulders and tell him that I would be right outside the door with his dog, he would sign his name and we could leave... hoping he would calm down. But then, they decided that me being outside the door with the dog (that his IEP says should be with him) would violate his IEP, so we could not do that either.

We left without being allowed to take the test, or even minimally participate. I hope they work this out by tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, when we are required to report for more testing. At this point, all we want is for him to minimally participate as required by law, with his service dog and handler present, as required by federal law, and school district policy."

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The Upshot

According to the Florida Department of Education, both the service dog and Shea as the handler should have been allowed in the testing area.

Most recently Lisa Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas school district, told The Washington Post in an email, "Pinellas County Schools works in coordination with the Florida Department of Education and parents to ensure compliance with federal law is followed. The school district worked with this family and has ensured the student had the proper accommodations before the testing period closed."

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