East Tennessee group speaks out against school service animal ru

East Tennessee group speaks out against school service animal rules

Posted:
George Hall of Athens, who's legally blind, has had his guide dog Patriot for the last ten years. George Hall of Athens, who's legally blind, has had his guide dog Patriot for the last ten years.
The Blount County school system told us they would bring the guide dog association's concerns about their service animal policy to the attention of their policy committee for review. The Blount County school system told us they would bring the guide dog association's concerns about their service animal policy to the attention of their policy committee for review.
By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

ATHENS (WATE) - A group representing people who use guide dogs says some local school systems are breaking the rules.

The Tennessee Association of Guide Dog Users reached out to 6 News claiming that Blount and McMinn County school systems have policies on guide dogs that don't match up with federal disability standards.

George Hall of Athens, who's legally blind, has had his guide dog Patriot for the last ten years.

"When you're in a store and you're there without a guide dog, you're lost. It's scary," Hall said.

So when he learned of the detailed policy McMinn County schools had adopted when it came to service animals for students, he was upset.

"To me, it's not fair," he said.
 
Hall contacted the Tennessee Association of Guide Dog Users, who contacted 6 News, saying the McMinn and Blount County school policies discriminate against people with disabilities by requiring prior approval to use a service animal, proof of disability and annual updates, and proof of liability insurance.

Web extra: Read the statement by the Tennessee Association of Guide Dog Users [PDF]

"We want to be in compliance with all laws, state and federal," said Joe Gaston, director of federal programs for McMinn County schools.

Gaston says the district recently received notice from the Tennessee School Boards Association that their policy was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and suggested changes.

"They told us a service entity may ask if a service animal is required because of a disability and that kind of thing, but we can't go into specific detail like our old policy did," Gaston said.

Gaston says the school board will adopt a new policy this summer.

"The bottom line is we need people with disabilities to have full access to their communities," said State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, director of Sertoma Center that serves adults with intellectual disabilities.

Massey helped pass a law last year that brings state law more in line with the ADA.
 
"Hopefully bringing this to light, it will get a lot of the school boards that may have that policy to get it up to the 21st century," Massey said.
 
The Blount County school system told us they would bring the guide dog association's concerns about their service animal policy to the attention of their policy committee for review.   

We also checked in with the Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee.

Web extra: Read the full statement by the Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee [PDF]


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