Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Education

Tampa dad pushes for disabled daughter to have service dog at school

TAMPA — A disabled kindergarten student in Apollo Beach soon might have a service dog accompany her to class, a possible first for the Hillsborough County school district.

Laura Tobia, 6, has mitochondrial disorder, a condition that causes her energy to be depleted and affects her muscle coordination, strength and control.

Elsa, a 60-pound German shepherd puppy, is being trained to walk beside her, help her up when she falls and retrieve items that she drops. "There are so many things that this dog can do for her," said her father, Scott Tobia.

But getting the dog into class at Doby Elementary School hasn't been easy, and Tobia said there was a disagreement with school officials on Thursday over how to move forward.

He said he was ordered to stop bringing the dog to and from campus, which he has been doing to get Elsa used to the routine. He brought the dog at dismissal time anyway and wondered if he would be arrested.

He was not. Instead, Tobia and school officials had an impromptu conference, with Elsa in tow.

District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said he knows of no other child who has a service dog at school in Hillsborough. Beyond that, he could not comment on the case, he said, citing student confidentiality laws.

The issue of service animals at school has been the subject of some lawsuits around the country, including a case last year that was decided in favor of a Palm Beach State College student.

But when it comes to younger children, even people who use dogs do not necessarily think they belong in the classroom.

"I would have some questions," said Toni Eames, president of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners.

"My first question would be, Who is going to take care of the dog? A dog is a dog. In a kindergarten class, with a lot of children playing and screaming, you would need to have some adult supervision."

Tobia said his daughter's classroom aide indicated she would be happy to get training and care for the dog.

Tobia said Laura is entitled to the dog for two reasons. First, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, including when it comes to government services such as public schools.

Second, the service dog is mentioned in Laura's "Individual Educational Plan" or IEP, the document that governs services given to students with disabilities.

But while the dog is described in the "Additional Comments" portion of the report, use of the dog is not included in the IEP Team recommendations.

Tobia believes the document was written that way because the district is not providing the dog; he is. He said the dog has been discussed at monthly conferences on Laura's progress, with no resistance from the IEP team.

This isn't the first time Tobia has argued forcefully with the district on behalf of his daughter.

Getting her into kindergarten was difficult because, although her therapy appointments are generally in the Brandon area, the district wanted to assign her to a school in Ruskin.

Last year there were contentious IEP meetings. Tobia said he used to schedule them at 8 a.m. because they lasted all day.

Things are going much better this year, Laura's second in kindergarten, Tobia said. "Everything has been so easy," he said, which made it surprising when he was told to stop bringing the dog.

He said he and school officials worked out an arrangement Thursday afternoon: Tobia can continue to walk Elsa to and from school with Laura to help the dog get used to the campus.

In a couple of weeks, he said, he plans to start bringing Elsa and her trainer into Laura's class.

He said his daughter is excited about having the dog, as it will give her more independence. And she's been told Elsa is not there as a playmate.

"She understands that the dog is working," he said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Comments
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Published: 05/21/18
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Published: 05/20/18
Updated: 05/21/18

Hooper: SEL lends a solution to the increasingly toxic world of kids

An incident recently arose between students at Jesuit High School and Academy of the Holy Names that involved allegations of cyberbullying, homophobia, misogyny and assault.It only involved a fraction of the students at two of Tampa’s most prestigiou...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/22/18
At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

SANTA FE, Texas - They gathered here by the dozens Friday evening, wearing their school colors, T-shirts that said "Texas Tough," while huddling under the shade of a gaggle of pine trees, not 11 hours after the first shots were fired.They came to pra...
Published: 05/19/18
‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

Paige Curry tried to keep calm Friday morning as a gunman tore through her Santa Fe High School, eventually killing 10 people and injuring another 10. The 17-year-old watched as a girl nearby panicked. Curry, herself terrified, considered running out...
Published: 05/19/18
Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Before they could get away, we asked the top graduates at Pinellas County’s private schools to write a Twitter-length paragraph about what’s on their mind. We suggested they reflect on the past or the future, or talk about the people who helped them ...
Published: 05/18/18