Sunday 18 March 2018

Classes at home for Luke as school keeps ban on 'help' dog

Luke Kelly-Melia (12) and his assistance dog, Aidan, who has been banned from
Knocktemple National School in Co Cavan
Luke Kelly-Melia (12) and his assistance dog, Aidan, who has been banned from Knocktemple National School in Co Cavan

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

PARENTS of a child with cerebral palsy are continuing to school him at home as he is not allowed to bring his assistance dog into the classroom.

Luke Kelly-Melia has not returned to sixth class in Knocktemple National School in Virginia, Co Cavan, since the Christmas holidays.

Earlier this week, the school's board of management decided to stand firm on its position not to allow the dog inside the classroom until its final policy has been worked out.

The school is consulting the Department of Education, parents and its insurers before making a final decision. It also said it would have to take "medical evidence of need" and "hygiene standards" into account.

Luke's parents, Pauline and Brendan, are tutoring their 12-year-old at home, where he is harnessed to his golden retriever, Aidan.

It helps him with walking and stops him falling down.

Yesterday, the school's board of management issued a statement re-iterating that the dog was not allowed on the school property "without supervision" and was "not allowed in the classroom".

"An assistance dog may accompany a pupil as far as the classroom door, provided that the pupil is also accompanied by a parent and that appropriate insurance has been put in place by the dog's owners."

The Department of Education has no policy on assistance dogs and leaves it up to individual schools to decide on these matters.

In this case, Luke got the fully trained animal from Dogs for the Disabled in Cork. His parents have seen his life "transformed" since Aidan's arrival and Luke was now walking independently.

The dog senses when Luke may be about to fall and stabilises him.

"At the weekend we went to Navan shopping centre and I couldn't believe Luke was able to go into a game shop on his own with the dog -- and walk all around -- without falling once. It has given him so much confidence and independence," said his mum, Pauline.

It's understood that another child who has a very similar disability to Luke is attending a Dublin secondary school with an assistance dog.

"We just want Luke to have equal rights. We're broken-hearted over this because of the difference the dog has made, he should be allowed to bring him to school," Pauline added.

Irish Independent

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