A cause for celebration nearly turned into cause for concern for one Pen High graduate, when she was informed the day of the school’s convocation ceremony that her medical service dog would not be permitted to attend with her.
Hannah Macintyre was the first student in SD67 to work with a medical service dog, and said since the beginning, she has had to maneuver over a few hurdles when it comes to bringing Coco, her service dog, to school. She had thought these problems were over, considering she and Coco have been attending Pen High for three years now, but was shocked when a staff member approached her during the grad rehearsal on June 7 at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“We were getting ready and one of the vice principals had pulled me aside and said they weren’t aware that I’d be bringing Coco. She said she hoped that I wouldn’t be bringing her that night (for the ceremony), and I said ‘Of course I am, why wouldn’t I?’,” said Macintyre.
Macintyre said she’s done her research on where Coco is permitted to be, and said this includes public events and buildings. She said the staff member that approached her had reasoned that because another student was not allowed to bring her therapy dog, that Coco would not be permitted either.
“She said another student with a therapy dog had her mother call ahead, and they had discussed it and decided that her dog wouldn’t cross the stage. I know who she is talking about, I’m friends with this student, and I had to clarify that they have a therapy dog and Coco is a medical service dog,” said Macintyre. “A therapy dog is more for emotional support. That’s like when you see dogs attending hospitals or seniors’ centres, or for someone who struggles with stress and anxiety. They are allowed into most places, but they can’t bring them absolutely everywhere. A medical service dog is higher ranking and is a medical tool that can go anywhere that I can go.”
Shelley Clarke, the board chair for SD67, said she could not comment on individual students but did note that with this situation, her understanding is that staff expected advanced notice if Coco was going to be attending the graduation. She reasoned that not all the staff at the ceremony, both high school and event staff, would be familiar with Macintyre and Coco’s situation and it’s a matter of courtesy.
“There was a misunderstanding between the staff member and the parent of the student about the process. It’s just a matter of making people aware that the dog would be there,” said Clarke. “It’s outside of our school building, so also making other staff aware that the dog would be there I imagine, because they don’t work with that student at all times.”
Macintyre said the majority of her time at Pen High has been great, and the staff are “incredibly supportive and absolutely wonderful” but said she does not like to call the situation a miscommunication because she should not have to alert people and places about Coco.
“Would I have to tell you if I was bringing my wheelchair or my oxygen tank across the stage? Or would I call the grocery store in advance to let them know I’m coming? Also, there has not been an apology or any discussion since before the grad ceremony,” said Macintyre. “I’m not speaking out to shame or belittle the school district, I’m trying to raise awareness for invisible disabilities and service dog rights.”
In the end, following discussions with another staff member with the school, Macintyre and Coco were both able to cross the stage and celebrate the end of high school for the Grade 12 student.
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