View Full Version : Debate over "seizure" dog in elementary school

08-07-2004, 03:42 PM

Mount Vernon, KY School officials in Rockcastle County are trying to determine whether a 7-year-old student should be allowed to bring her specially trained dog to school. The dog knows how to respond to Cheyenne Gilliam's frequent epileptic seizures. Cheyenne brought Mikki to her first day of school at Mount Vernon Elementary on Wednesday.

But Rockcastle County Schools Superintendent Larry Hammond notified Cheyenne's parents, Jennifer and Anthony Gilliam, that the dog had to be removed. Both Cheyenne and Mikki went home. Hammond said he wants to find out whether the school is legally obligated to allow Cheyenne to bring Mikki, a 55-pound Weimaraner, into the classroom. The school board's attorney is reviewing the case. "I've never dealt with a situation quite like this," Hammond said. "I regret the inconvenience to the parent and the child."

Hammond said the dog could be a liability to the district and might disrupt the classroom. He also noted that some children might fear dogs or be allergic to them. But Cheyenne's mother, Jennifer Gilliam, said she's frustrated that the issue is coming up now, two months after she began working with the school system to ensure that it was prepared for the dog. Cheyenne was diagnosed with epilepsy about two years ago but did not have a canine helper at her previous school in Edmonson County.

Gilliam said the dog senses oncoming seizures and alerts Cheyenne by obsessively licking the palms of her hands. That cues Cheyenne to sit down on a mat on the floor, so she will not hit her head. During a seizure, Mikki lies across the girl, providing a sense of security. When Mikki gets up, Cheyenne knows it's safe for her to get up, too, Gilliam said. Cheyenne takes medicine that helps prevent seizures, but she still has three to five "full-blown" episodes a week, Gilliam said. Gilliam said she believes her refusal to have an "Individual Education Program" drawn up for her daughter is part of the problem. She said the plan would involve not only testing Cheyenne's intellectual capability, but also her mental and emotional health.

Aaron McCullough, a lawyer with the Disability Law Resource Project in Texas, said the Gilliams' refusal of the plan shouldn't matter, since they "are for students who have learning impairments or disabilities that affect their ability to learn." But Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross said the plans "are also for kids who have physical disabilities," and if parents don't participate, schools are not required to provide special accommodations. The family is filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Gilliam said she hopes the situation is resolved quickly, as Hammond has pledged. "I really don't want her to fall behind," she said.

08-07-2004, 03:50 PM
Has anyone observed the dog in the classroom? has anyone asked the students - or parents - of her classmates if anyone IS allergic to dogs? I would think the dog would be a great asset to the classroom of an epileptic child. Mikki's warning to Cheyenne would also be a warning to the teacher and other students so they need no be frightened when Cheyenne does have a seizure. Desensitizing students to the effects of epilepsy can only help. A seizure is a very very scary thing to witness. How much less frightening would it be if the person is prepared, and in a safer place!

08-07-2004, 03:53 PM
I'm sure there's a firestorm brewing over this issue! Of course we'll probably never know the outcome though. My hunch is things will work out in the child's favor! ;)

08-07-2004, 04:14 PM
Originally posted by Karen
\ A seizure is a very very scary thing to witness. How much less frightening would it be if the person is prepared, and in a safer place!

Karen I agree with you! And, another aspect is that I think the presence of the dog could lessen the frightening aspects of the seizure. I was working and in my 20's when I observed my first seizure. It was a co-worker having a seizure. It was scary and, had there been a dog there, I don't think it would have bothered me half as much. What a great learning tool!

Aspen and Misty
08-07-2004, 04:25 PM
Thats stupid! Breeze gets to go to school with me and she is only in training! I know things will work out in the favor of the child. I also know that you can NOT deny access to a public place to a service animal.


08-07-2004, 04:29 PM
Let me start by saying, the dog should be allowed in the classroom. I do wonder what the issue is about the I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan), though. I am a certified regular education teacher, so my knowledge of special education specifics is somewhat limited, but I thought a student could have an I.E.P. for a serious medical issue without intellectual testing. I had a student with cerebral palsy who had an I.E.P. dealing with physical issues, but that student made straight A's. She was far from being learning disabled. Surely this school district could make a distinction between the two.:confused:

08-07-2004, 04:33 PM
Update (click on the link to see a pic of the girl and her dog):


Posted on Sat, Aug. 07, 2004

Rockcastle superintendent gets word from doctor, opens doors

By Bill Estep

A 7-year-old girl was finally allowed into Mount Vernon Elementary School yesterday with her service dog after her doctor attested she needed the animal.

In a case that angered advocates for the disabled, Rockcastle Schools Superintendent Larry Hammond had prevented Cheyenne Gilliam from going to class Wednesday and Thursday with her dog, saying he was concerned about safety and liability issues such as other students being allergic to the dog or afraid of it.

Hammond said he would let the girl and her dog into school after Cheyenne's pediatrician sent him a letter confirming the girl's health condition and the medical need for the dog.

Cheyenne's doctor in Bowling Green faxed the letter yesterday morning, and Hammond let Cheyenne and her dog into school about 10:30 a.m., said her mother, Jennifer Gilliam.

"This should settle all of this," Gilliam said. "She's in school and will be every day from now on."

Gilliam said the short letter from Dr. Kelly Kries confirmed that she had treated Cheyenne, that the girl is on medication for a seizure disorder, and that in the doctor's opinion it was medically necessary for Chey-enne to have the dog with her.

The dog, a 55-pound Weim-araner named Mikki, is trained to sense when Cheyenne is about to have a seizure and warn her by licking her hands so that she can lie or sit down. The dog then stays with Cheyenne to comfort and protect her during the episode.

There was one last bump yesterday. Gilliam took Cheyenne and Mikki to school, as she had vowed to do every day until they were admitted, but Hammond hadn't gotten the letter yet and wouldn't allow the girl and her dog into class when school opened.

"What is wrong with me that they won't let me in here," asked Cheyenne, who was upset and crying, Gilliam said. Her parents assured her that the problem was not with her, but a lack of understanding about the dog, her mother said.

Later, Cheyenne was "ecstatic" about being allowed into class with her dog, her mother said.

"When they said she could go in, she just smiled," Gilliam said.

Hammond said advocates for people with disabilities pelted him with critical e-mail messages. He said that he was not trying to hurt Cheyenne or her family, but that he has an obligation to make sure the school is safe for all students.

Robert Tierney, recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a specialist on accessibility issues for a wide range of clients, volunteered to help the Gilliams and went to school with them yesterday morning to meet with Hammond.

Tierney, of Stanford, said the law is clear that people who use service animals are not required to show proof of their disability or need for the animal, or of the animal's training. It was "clearly out of bounds" to require such proof before allowing Cheyenne and Mikki into school, he said.

However, Tierney said, it is a good idea to provide such documentation, which the Gilliams were willing to do, in order to allay concerns.

Tierney said having Chey-enne in school with her dog will be a great example to other students. He also said he hoped the case will educate schools, businesses and others in the state about the law and use of service animals.

08-07-2004, 04:54 PM
Thanks for the update & link! I figured things would work out for the better! :D ;)

08-08-2004, 04:11 PM
I am so glad to see that update. I know as a teacher, if I had an epileptic child in my classroom, I would feel much more comfortable with the dog present than without it. That school system was just asking for a lawsuit. I'm glad it worked out for the best.