The parents of a young boy with cerebral palsy are distraught after been told his assistance dog is not allowed to accompany him in school.
While thousands of children returned to to their classrooms after the Christmas holidays yesterday, Luke Kelly-Melia, who is in sixth class at Knocktemple National School in Virginia, Co Cavan, stayed at home.
His parents, Pauline and Brendan, have decided to home-school him after they were told his golden retriever, Aidan, is not allowed on the school grounds until further notice.
Mum Pauline said Luke's life has been "transformed" since last November, when he got the assistance dog, which helps his mobility. "He was bringing the dog to school and it gives him a lot more independence," she said.
"We used to worry all the time about him falling backwards and hitting his head -- but now when he wobbles, the dog stops and they steady themselves before continuing on again."
However, the parents were informed in a letter just before the holidays the dog was not allowed on the premises while the board of management gave "consideration to the matter".
The letter suggested the parents only made a verbal request for the dog to accompany Luke to school, and that they had only asked for this to happen from March this year.
It asked them for a written request to be considered by the board. The letter also asked that Luke's family "cease the current practice of bringing the dog on to the school premises" until a final decision was made.
But Luke's mother said she was "very surprised" that there was any issue about the dog attending the school.
"His teachers were very positive about it all when we were told he was getting the dog from Dogs for the Disabled in Cork in November," she added.
"Luke has a classroom assistant but as he said himself, she doesn't wear a harness, and can't stop him from falling over."
His mother added: "He misses his friends and we don't want to keep him out of school. Everyone in the community has reacted so well to the dog. We bring him to the shops, to the butcher's, we even practice steps with him in the library -- people are fantastic."
The principal of Knocktemple NS, Declan Cooney, said he had received a letter from the parents on the matter yesterday.
He added that their application would be "considered by the board of management". Mr Cooney declined to comment further on the matter.
The Department of Education said it provided the "care needs of children with special educational needs who require support in the classroom through the special needs assistant scheme".
A spokesperson said it was a "matter for the board of management of each school to develop a policy on whether guide dogs or assistance dogs were allowed in the school, taking account of the needs of all the children in the school".