Service dog denied entry to Sherrard Elementary

Cala Smoldt

A group wearing purple, representing a little girl with epilepsy stood in silent protest outside of the Sherrard School board meeting Wednesday, May 21, all because school officials told the family their daughter could no longer bring her service dog, Jasper to their public elementary school. Sherrard parent, Joleen Easley, supports the non-profit RibbonsforKellsey, and attended the protest. She said the goal was to, "rally as many as we can, not to protest or be disruptive but to stand outside the building in purple to show support of the McGuire family and the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Everything seemed to be going fine with 2nd grader Kellsey McGuire and her service dog Jasper. About a week and a half after the assembly at Sherrard welcoming Jasper, things took a turn for the worst. Kellsey, now eight-years old, was diagnosed with epilepsy as an infant. After several months of training, her service dog Jasper is able to detect a seizure and alert her guardians before it happens ensuring Kellsey's safety. In a previous interview Mrs. McGuire described her daughter since having Jasper with her in school as exhibiting a more confident behavior, asking questions and being more involved in her studies.

According to the McGuire's Attorney John Doak, a staff member at the elementary school has made it very difficult for Kellsey to feel comfortable at Sherrard Elementary where she is entitled to receive a "free and appropriate public education." He explained that three times she was told not to come into the school with her service dog Jasper. He said that school officials told Mrs. McGuire (Kellsey's mom Brandi) that she had to meet with them before Kellsey could come back with Jasper. After each meeting she was told Jasper can return, but after the third request to meet about it, the McGuire's said 'forget it.'

"I am very disappointed that this matter has not been put on a fast track for resolution that would make sense for all parties, that preserved the dignity of individuals with disabilities, recognize their rights, and that they instead put this situation in a manner where it is going to get exacerbated." John Doak, Attorney representing the McGuire's.

"The principal called me on more than one occasion and told me Jasper can no longer come to school." Brandi McGuire tried to resolve the issue without getting an attorney involved, but  after the continual request to meet over whether or not Jasper could come, she had to do something. They filed due process. "There's no way my daughter can go back (to school) there." She said because all the same teachers and principal who were involved with this will still be there next year - she doesn't believe it's a safe place for her daughter.

The McGuire's can't talk about the specific events that took place as they are in the middle of a legal battle over the matter, however, family friend, Kelly Caccamo was able to offer some insight into the incidents in question. "Apparently there was a teacher, who had issues with Kellsey's service dog." Caccamo filed her own grievance back in February regarding the incident.

Kelly Caccamo also withdrew her own children from the class in question, because she didn't want her child exposed to the teacher in question. She said Sherrard issued an 'F' in that non-essential class on their report cards when they had been withdrawn while they received all A's on every other subject.

Caccamo went on to say, "There are wonderful teachers at Sherrard, I care about the kids in that community, they have supported our family in difficult times, it's sad that this is even going on.... we have very dear friends and family there." The Caccamo's have since moved to Indiana for personal reasons. She felt that causing this stress for the McGuire family was based on one persons complaint, and that they have done nothing on behalf of the student, but everything for the teacher.

RibbonsforKellsey supporter Joleen Easley has a dual purpose for her involvement in this matter. Her daughter also is diagnosed with epilepsy and the McGuire's have been apart of helping her family. She previously quit as a 2nd grade aid at Sherrard Elementary because they wouldn't allow time off for her to attend an important appointment with her daughter.

Easley became aware through other supporters that incidents were taking place in the elementary schools art class, Hillary Plog, art teacher supposedly tried to agitate Kellsey's service dog Jasper. Further research revealed that Hillary Plog is also the Founder, President and Head Trainer for Quad Cities Canine Assistance Network, Inc. their website is http://www.qccan.org.  According to Easley, Plog continually told Kellsey what Jasper was supposedly doing wrong as a service dog, to a point where it became bullying towards Kellsey. Plog allegedly went to the principal thereby causing the need to meet to discuss whether or not Jasper would be allowed to attend school. She could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Easley said, "My daughter has epilepsy, she's on medication and I had to take an advocate with me to get her a 504 plan." Because she has proof that she is epileptic she should be guaranteed a 504 plan which outlines what actions they are going to take if her grades start dropping or if she needs things. "She should have one the minute I had proof of her epilepsy, but it took 8 months, and an advocate." She believes that because the state does not reimburse schools for students on a 504 plan that the district drug their feet. "I refuse to work in their district, I'm a substitute teacher, and I can't be an advocate for my child and work in the district, it's impossible."

When questioned, Superintendent of Sherrard Schools Dr. Samuel Light said, "this is a misunderstanding on multiple sides." At the School Board Meeting Wednesday night May 21, the school board continued due process. Dr. Light explained, "I was told that that did not happen (McGuire's told Jasper could not attend school), I was not here when all of that was going on." He explained that the incidents in question happened under former Superintendent Rebecca Rodocker, Dr. Light began serving April 7. He would not discuss it further stating, "I can't comment any further without compromising the legal process."

The cost of a specially trained dog, is around $20,000. Half the cost was raised by ribbonsforkellsey inc. and the other half was funded by 'DAD' (Disability Assistance Dogs). Ribbonsforkellsey is an organization whose mission is to educate others about the risks of Epilepsy and the importance of diagnosis at an early age. They raise money to help other children with Epilepsy by providing medical supplies.

A trained seizure alert dog is considered 'medical equipment'. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires schools and other public entities and businesses to allow individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by service animals, according to www.justice.gov.

Kellsey has been attending a private school where her and Jasper are reportedly doing well. To learn more about Kellsey's journey, epilepsy, and how you can get involved, visit their website at www.ribbonsforkellsey.weebly.com.

Easley created a Facebook page May 21, it can be found by putting 'Jasper's Fight For Hope' in the Search bar. It has already reached over 750 "Likes". Updates and information will be added daily.

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