PINE RICHLAND (KDKA) – It is the first day of school for many area students, but in one school district, there was a fight over whether a student’s service dog should be allowed in the classroom.
Getting on the bus today meant so much to 8-year-old Sean Forsyth. After months of uncertainty, he was finally given approval by the school board to allow his service dog in school.
On his first day of third grade, it was a monumental step for the Forsyth family as Sean got on board the school bus with his dog by his side.
Sophia was forced to stay home last school year. Getting permission from the Pine Richland School District became a battle for the Forsyth family that they weren’t willing to back down from.
“In second grade, I really missed her. I thought of her all the time. At school, every single thing. When I was working, while at recess, while at lunch. Thought of her all day,” Sean said.
“We basically said, there’s no reason to keep the dog out of the school. It’s a service animal. It’s providing a service,” B.J. Forsyth said.
Sophia is trained to help Sean, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s, which is a form of autism. The calming effect she brings is why it was so important for Sophia to be with him at school.
“She just gives me kisses every time I’m near her,” Sean said. “She makes me feel better whenever I’m nervous.”
In June, after receiving legal help and providing all the documentation necessary, Sophia finally got the approval the family and Sean were hoping for.
Sean has spent the last few weeks training with Sophia in school and on the bus preparing for today. The family said it feels like they broke down a wall.
“Once they see this is a success, there won’t be that barrier there anymore,” B.J. Forsyth said.
Moving forward, the family said they hope to keep the lines of communication open with the school district and make any modifications necessary.
The Pine-Richland School District issued this statement today:
“The district takes all requests seriously, especially when it’s in the best interest of the child.
To comply with the American Disabilities Act, the family needed to show what specific task the service animal performed.
The family has done so since, which allowed the district to determine that the request fell within those guidelines.”