For two long years, mother Monica Alboniga fought the Broward County School Board to allow her son’s service dog to accompany him to school. Finally, after a long battle, a federal judge found in her favor.
7-year-old Anthony Merchante has cerebral palsy. He and his mother rely on Stevie, a Staffordshire terrier, to alert caregivers if Anthony has trouble breathing or is about to have a seizure.
The gentle dog is specially trained to alert someone of a medical crisis and tend to Anthony’s needs and has become invaluable in maintaining Anthony’s health.
The Miami Herald reported that when Alboniga asked for her son to bring Stevie to school, the school administrators initially said “no”. They gradually said “yes” but applied conditions that Alboniga could not meet.
These conditions included Stevie obtaining a “host of vaccinations that rarely are applied to dogs”, costly liability insurance and a handler (provided at Alboniga’s own expense) to accompany Stevie at all times.
The two parties went to court and last week U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom ruled that Stevie should be allowed to join Anthony at Nob Hill Elementary without a series of requirements that the school district had dictated to his mother.
According to the Miami Herald, throughout the federal court case administrators continued to insist that it was not their responsibility to help Anthony keep Stevie at school.
But the federal judge thought differently. The judge wrote, “While at school, Stevie does not eat or drink. Nor does Stevie defecate or make stains, or require cleaning or exercise.” She added, Alboniga “attends to Stevie’s daily feeding, cleaning and care needs.”
She pointed out that tending to Anthony’s service dog should not be seen differently from the way a school would “assist a diabetic child with her insulin pump, or assist a physically disabled child employ her motorized wheelchair.”
The ruling is a vindication for Alboniga. Knowing Stevie will now be with her son at school gives her tremendous peace of mind.
She told the newspaper, Stevie “has saved Anthony’s life. I feel completely safe every time he is with the dog, because I know the dog will look for help.”
I’m so happy that Stevie will be able to stay by Anthony’s side at school!