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Athens teacher's allergy, girl's service dog at odds

Autistic first-grader told to switch schools

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ATHENS, Ohio -- The mother of an autistic first-grader in Ohio who uses a service dog is challenging a decision that the girl must change schools because her special-education teacher is allergic to dog dander.

Charla Gretz said a school official told her on the first day of school this week that her daughter, 6-year-old Shyanna, and her black Labrador retriever, Spring, could not attend Morrison-Gordon Elementary School in southeast Ohio, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The official told her that the special-education teacher at the school is extremely allergic to dog dander and Shyanna must transfer, according to Gretz.

Shyanna gets overwhelmed by sensory issues and does not cope well with change, Gretz said. Her dog is trained to calm her and to walk on an attached tether so the girl cannot wander. Gretz said changing schools would disturb her daughter.

But accommodations made for Shyanna and her dog must be balanced against the allergic teacher's rights, said Carl Martin, superintendent of the Athens City School District. Moving Shyanna to a different school is a reasonable solution, he said.

Gretz also said the bus ride to a different school would be about double the ride to Morrison-Gordon.

"She does not do well with buses," Gretz said. Martin disputed her claim about the lengthened route, saying Shyanna would not spend significantly more time on the bus because the schools are only five miles apart.

There is a legal obligation to accommodate both the student and the teacher, said Sara Clark, an attorney with the Ohio School Boards Association. Clark said the issue of service dogs and classroom allergies has surfaced nationally, but she wasn't aware of any other cases in Ohio.

Gretz plans to take her case to the school board that oversees the 2,800-student district southeast of Columbus. But for now, she plans to keep her daughter at their home in The Plains and use online courses for instruction.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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