ST. CATHARINES, Ont. -- A St. Catharines teenager won't be allowed to go to high school until she can prove her support dog has the right qualifications.
Becca Droeshout, 16, suffers from severe anxiety but can cope with the demands of high school with the help of her specially trained yellow lab, Lily, at her side.
But the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) says until Lily can pass a "school access" test and Droeshout and her family can prove Lily's service training matches the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) standard (normally used for dogs providing support for physical needs), Becca will have to be segregated from other students, only going to school after the other kids have gone home.
"That's discrimination," said Lisa Droeshout, Becca's mother, who is organizing a rally this week to call attention to her daughter's plight.
Thinking they were doing exactly what the DSBN wanted, the Droeshouts submitted a supporting letter from Becca's doctor and obtained additional certification at their own expense from a service-dog training facility.
But the DSBN still isn't allowing Becca to go to school.
Board spokeswoman Kim Yielding confirmed Becca and Lily can't go to school and said it's because the board is looking after Becca's best interests. She said Becca is currently studying one-on-one with a teacher and the DSBN wants to transition her and Lily to an off-site classroom in a library or other public space with a smaller number of students.
Lisa Droeshout rejects that and said Becca and all other students who struggle with mental health issues should not be segregated.
Studying one-on-one for only a few after-school hours a week means Becca is not keeping up with her peers.
"I want to go to school," Becca said. "Lily is good and everybody loves her. Even the kid in my class who said he is terrified of dogs petted her."
There are other students in DSBN schools who have support dogs, but they have been trained according to ADI standards, said Yielding. Lily's certification is from Thames Centre Service Dogs, which has pioneered a program that trains dogs for people who need psychiatric support or who have brain injuries, autism or epilepsy.
Becca said Lily calms her and helps her focus on her studies.
She said Lily can sense if she is getting anxious and will gently distract her "by leaning against my leg," or if that doesn't work, making a low noise in its throat.
Becca said it was her teacher who first suggested last year she bring Lily to school, "and I started bringing Lily to my English class on Fridays."
Lisa Droeshout said that was so successful the school and family decided to increase the amount of class time for both Becca and Lily -- until board officials intervened and kept Lily out of the classroom.
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