Lyndhurst – As a parent of a special needs child, a parent can feel like every day is a fight to get the support that their child needs to achieve and excel to the best of their ability. When 10 year old Ethan Barton was matched with his service dog and fur-ever friend Molly, back in November 2015, his family thought that their days of fighting for help were over, that is until the Upper Canada District School Board denied requests to allow Molly to accompany her charge to school each day. A decision that has forced Ethan’s family to take further action to ensure Ethan his best chance for success.
When we first met Ethan Barton early in 2014, they were in the early days of the Paws for Ethan campaign. A small but dedicated group rallied on a journey to assist Ethan and his family in their goal to obtain a service dog that promised to alleviate the severity of many of the conditions that Ethan and his family live with on a daily basis. A variety of fundraisers were held, and before long the dream became reality.
Ethan has been diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum between medium and high functioning. He also has Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder rated as severe; Oppositional Defiance Disorder, a Sensory Processing Disorder and engages in Pica. Social interactions and controlling his anger are difficult for Ethan. He is known to obsess over selected things to the exclusion of all else. At school Ethan receives the support of an Educational Assistant in the classroom who is shared between up to 5 children with special needs.
Since being matched Ethan and his family have been able to enjoy many of the regular activities of daily life that most of us take for granted such as grocery shopping, attending a community event or even getting a haircut. Before Molly, none of these things would have been considered possible. Having Molly at school could have avoided 5 suspensions in this past school year from a student who had never before had such issues at school.
Ethan’s Mom Cynthia Tomney proudly tells the story of the summer fundraiser where Molly seemed to choose Ethan. They had no idea at that time that she would later join their family. They were overjoyed when they learned that Ethan had met his match in Molly. Here they sit, almost 2 years later, and Ethan is unable to realize the full potential of her support. He has been denied the opportunity to have her at his side at the one place that children spend most of their weekday awake hours.
When it became clear that the school board’s policy wouldn’t be changed, Tomney began making inquiries that would eventually lead her to file a discrimination suit in August of this year with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario with a request for the proceedings to be expedited due to the nature of the case. The case goes to mediation August 31st, 2017.
For Tomney, it’s all about Ethan and his welfare. “I just want my son to have access to one more thing, his service dog Molly, to help him be successful at school. It breaks my heart to see him not understanding, crying and being angry because she cannot be there with him. As a Mom, you try to make things better and easier. Molly is one “thing” that helps do that for Ethan.”
Samantha Knapp, a trainer as well as co-founder of Kingston 4 Paws spoke of Molly’s thorough training that includes:
- testing on and around a variety of surfaces and equipment
- exposure to smells and other animals
- training in places or at events that a service dog might be taken to
- as a variety of potentially distracting noises such as thunder, gun shots, crying babies or school fire drills (to name just a few)
- Exposure to things like bouncy house, and blow up displays, Halloween decorations, but also more usual things like vacuums, stairs, balloons, and kids toys such as hula hoops or ride on toys.
She has also been taught a variety of commands and phrases that her family uses in their daily interactions.
“As a certified trainer, there is no doubt in my mind that Molly couldn’t be of service to Ethan while at school. It is frustrating that there is not a lot of knowledge surrounding service dogs. Hopefully this will help pave the way for other families. The school board is doing a grave disservice to Ethan and his family. — Samantha Knapp, Trainer, and Co-Founder of Kingston 4 Paws Service Dogs
Kingston 4Paws Service Dogs is a registered Canadian charity with over 20 years of experience in the training of service dogs. The organization trains and places service dogs with adults and children with a variety of special needs, and medical issues. All dogs are purchased from a select group of Canadian Kennel Club members at 8 weeks of age and are restricted to Labradors or Poodles. Even after placement, all dogs remain the property of the program. Training and support continues long after the initial placement is made.
“The dog has gone through extensive training and rigorous testing through Kingston 4 Paws Service Dogs, a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to providing service dogs to persons with disabilities to assist them to become more independent in their community. We believe the current policy is overly rigid. There should be some flexibility, based on an assessment of the actual needs of the student with a disability. It is the school board’s failure to do an individualized assessment, which has left Ethan unable to have his service dog with him in school or to participate in social events like other students.” – Chantal Tie, Counsel, Human Rights Legal Support Centre
The Human Rights Legal Support Centre provides free legal assistance to people in communities across Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
A comment from the school board was not available at the time of this article.