The parents of a young boy with cerebral palsy have opted to educate their child at home – after they were told his assistance dog was not welcome at his primary school.
Sixth class student Luke Kelly-Melia stayed away when his classmates returned from the Christmas holidays to Knocktemple National School in Virginia, County Cavan.
Parents Pauline and Brendan have told the Irish Independent newspaper of their hurt and anger when Luke was told his golden retriever Aidan is no longer welcome on school grounds.
“Luke’s life has been transformed since last November, when he got the assistance dog which helps his mobility,” explained Pauline.
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“He was bringing the dog to school and it gives him a lot more independence. We used to worry all the time about him falling backwards and hitting his head but now when he wobbles, the dog stops and they steady themselves before continuing on again.”
A letter from the school, delivered just before Christmas, informed Pauline and Brendan that the dog was no longer allowed on the premises while the board of management gave ‘consideration to the matter’.
The correspondence suggested that Luke’s parents had only made a verbal request for the dog to be allowed accompany their son from March of 2012.
Requesting a written request for permission, the letter also asked that Luke’s family ‘cease the current practice of bringing the dog on to the school premises until a final decision is made’.
Pauline told the paper: “I was very surprised that there was any issue about the dog attending the school.
“His teachers were very positive about it all when we were told he was getting the dog from Dogs for the Disabled in Cork in November.
“Luke has a classroom assistant but as he said himself, she doesn’t wear a harness, and can’t stop him from falling over.
“He misses his friends and we don’t want to keep him out of school. Everyone in the community has reacted so well to the dog. We bring him to the shops, to the butcher’s, we even practice steps with him in the library, people are fantastic.”
Knocktemple school principal Declan Cooney confirmed that he received a letter from the parents on the matter on Monday and said this would now be considered by the board of management.