On one side, there is 12-year-old Andrew Stevens, an epileptic boy who has a service dog to help him live as normal a life as possible. On the other, there is Ft. Belvoir Elementary School, which wouldn't let that dog accompany Andrew to special education class.
But now it looks like an agreement has been made and Andrew's best friend can help him at school.
Andrew and his family raised $20,000 and waited two years for a dog trained by the group Seizure Alert Dogs for Life, Norah O'Donnell reported for NBC News. The German shepherd, Alaya, is now Andrew’s best friend and protector. Alaya detects and responds to dozens of epileptic seizures Andrew has every day.
Andrew has a rare form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS). Alaya has a magnet in her collar. When Alaya detects Andrew’s impending seizure, the dog swipes the magnet over a nerve stimulator implanted in Andrew’s chest. An electrical impulse goes to Andrew’s brain, stopping the seizure.
Ft. Belvoir Elementary wouldn’t let Andrew go to school with his dog, citing concerns about who would be the dog's handler.
But NBC News has learned that Andrew can now bring Alaya to school.
After public pressure, and Andrew's appearance on the Today show Tuesday morning, Fairfax County Public Schools backed down.
Officials informed Andrew's parents Tuesday that Andrew can bring his dog to school next week starting on Tuesday. Andrew's parents have agreed to a trial period of 3-6 weeks where one of Andrew's parents must accompany Andrew and his dog to school. There will also be a weekly conference call to assess how Andrew, his dog, and other students are responding to the new situation.
Fairfax County Public Schools officials had initially objected to Andrew bringing his dog to school citing concerns about who would be the dog's handler.
Officials were afraid for the safety of Andrew and the other students.
“We want Andrew to be in school," said Kim Dockery, assistant supervisor for special services. "His teachers love him. We want him to be there and be there with the dog if we can have a situation where handling the dog is safe.”
Fairfax County Public Schools officials said the German shepherd needs a handler from the non-profit group called Assistance Dogs International if attending class.
Jon Sabin, who runs the group that trained Alaya, said the dog is one of the most highly trained seizure-response dogs in the world, with more than 1,800 hours of training.
Andrew’s parents, Angelo and Nancy Stevens, were disappointed with the school district's initial decision. They hoped Alaya would allow their son to function more like a normal student. Fairfax County Public Schools officials told O'Donnell their teachers could help Andrew in the same way as the service dog. But Sabin said it would take a classroom teacher at least 30 to 40 seconds to react. He said it takes Alaya five to six seconds. That’s a big time difference for Andrew when he's trying to survive a seizure.
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