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Illinois schools seek to ban autistic kids’ dogs

Over the objections of school officials, Kaleb Drew went to first grade on Tuesday with his Labrador retriever, Chewey, and his family says they’re optimistic they’ll win a court battle to keep the dog in class.

Chewey, trained to help the autistic boy deal with his disabilities, did “just as he’s supposed to” in keeping Kaleb safe and calm during his first full day back at school, said the boy’s mother, Nichelle Drew.

A Douglas County judge allowed the dog to accompany Kaleb until the family’s lawsuit against Villa Grove Elementary School in east-central Illinois goes to trial in November, according to the Associated Press.

Kaleb’s case is one of two challenging an Illinois law allowing service animals in schools.

“I hope as time goes by that maybe they’ll see that it’s not causing a problem, and they’ll let the fight go,” Nichelle Drew said. Regardless, she added, “We’re in it for the long haul.”

Officials at both schools maintain that the dogs provide only “comfort care” and aren’t true “service” animals. They say the autistic boys’ needs have to be balanced against other children who have allergies or fear the dogs.

At Kaleb’s school, officials say they already provide him with adequate services for his autism, a developmental disorder that often involves poor communication and social skills. Kaleb’s parents say the dog helps with the difficult transition from home to school and lessens the chances of Kaleb having an outburst.

Nichelle Drew said the dog caused no problems at school on Tuesday, or on Friday, when Kaleb spent a few hours in class.

Equip for Equality, a Chicago-based advocacy group that is suing on the Drew family’s behalf, said Villa Grove is clearly violating Illinois law.

In the other Illinois case, a Monroe County judge issued a preliminary injunction last week allowing Carter Kalbfleisch to have his dog with him when he attends special education pre-kindergarten in Columbia. On Monday, that judge ordered that the ruling take effect Sept. 14, meaning Carter could attend classes before then but without his dog.