HENRIETTA, N.Y. (AP) — A diabetic 11-year-old whose family paid $20,000 for a dog trained to sniff out blood sugar swings at school is being tutored at home after the school district refused to allow the service animal in class.
Madyson Siragusa's parents say her dog named Duke is no different than the seeing eye dogs allowed inside public buildings and are pressing the Rush Henrietta Central School District to reconsider.
"We have no idea what changed their mind," Keri Siragusa said of district officials who seemed receptive to the idea when she proposed it before the summer recess. The family sold bracelets, raised funds online and dipped deep into their finances to pay for the yellow Labrador retriever.
But shortly before the start of the new school year, Siragusa said, the suburban Rochester district sent a letter barring the dog because of concerns it would be a distraction, scare other children and aggravate allergies.
Duke arrived with Madyson at Roth Middle School on Friday, only to be turned away.
Administrators said medical consultants advised them the dog wasn't medically necessary. They cited guidance from the New York State Association of School Attorneys, which said districts should decide on a case-by-case basis whether a student can receive "a free appropriate public education" without a dog.
"Our schools are staffed by a school nurse and supported by a district nurse practitioner," a district statement provided to The Associated Press said. "They use long-established, well-tested protocols — including the prudent monitoring of blood glucose levels — to safeguard the health and well-being of students.
"The presence of a service animal trained to monitor these levels is redundant," the statement said.
The animals can supplement school care by detecting highs and lows in between visits to the nurse's office, said Lily Grace, founder and chief executive of the National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs, which provided the dog. That's especially important for Madyson, whose Type 1 diabetes makes her prone to rapid fluctuations in her blood sugar levels.
"Within a 10-minute window, this child can go from having a good number to a dangerous number," Grace said.
"Yes, the nurse is there, too. That's a great thing to have," she said from Cottonwood, Calif., where her company is based, "but the more tools the better."
NIDAD has placed about 400 dogs with diabetics in its nine-year history, about a quarter of which attend school, she said. Each dog is trained specifically for the person they are matched with. Madyson's parents collected saliva samples during episodes of high and low blood glucose and sent them to NIDAD, where Duke was trained to alert to the scents the same way police dogs are taught to detect drugs or explosives. Duke paws at Madyson when there is a potential problem.
The Siragusas have been seeking input from doctors familiar with diabetic alert dogs in hopes of convincing the district that the dog is medically necessary. They plan to meet with district officials in the future, though nothing has yet been scheduled.
In the meantime, while the district has not barred the girl from attending school without the dog, at her parents' request she is instead receiving 10 hours of district-provided home tutoring each week.
District officials, anticipating legal action, declined to comment beyond the statement.
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