After three-year legal fight, 10-year-old Hillsboro boy gets his autism service dog in class
by Wendy Owen, The Oregonian By Wendy Owen, The Oregonian
HILLSBORO– Scooter Givens had a rough day at school Monday, but his autism service dog helped calm him.
It was the first time Scooter, 10, has been allowed to use his trained service dog in class, and it definitely had its bumps, said his mom Wendy Givens. But, overall, she deemed it a success.
“Tomorrow we’re going to do it again,” she said. “I’m excited. I think we had a really good day despite some of the challenges.”
The Givens family and Disability Rights Oregon spent three years battling Hillsboro School District to allow Scooter to use his German shepherd, Madison, in class, including filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
But it took Oregon’s U.S. Attorney to make it finally happen.
The Department of Justice had spent more than a year investigating the case, which concluded after U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton explained to Hillsboro Superintendent Mike Scott that the district could face a federal lawsuit if it didn’t allow the boy to try the dog in school.
On March 4, Scott decided to allow the dog into the classroom on a trial basis.
It took another month to work out details for the dog to assist Scooter in class, including visits last week to introduce the dog to the school staff and Scooter’s classmates. But Monday was the first big step.
Reporters and photographers met Scooter’s mom and the dog as they entered Patterson Elementary School. Scooter, whose given name is Jordan, wanted nothing to do with the cameras and stayed in class. As Givens spoke to reporters, and excited students clambered about lining up for lunch, the dog lay calmly on the floor.
Madison will spend 1 1/2 hours in class every day this week with Givens as his handler. Gradually, his time will increase to full days by May 9, according to the school district. An assistant will take over handler duties later.
Givens said she mostly plans to observe and learn this week to get a better sense of the classroom operation and atmosphere before fully utilizing Madison. She quickly realized that both she and the dog need a little time to acclimate.
Because Madison has not been in the classroom with Scooter, as he was trained to do three years ago, his experience working with the boy has been at home and in stores. The dog’s training in behavior disruption is intact, Givens said, but different things cause Scooter’s behavior to escalate at school versus home.
“It’s going to be a process,” she said.