Suffering from a rare and severe form of epilepsy, 12-year-old Andrew Stevens can experience up to 20 seizures a day, any one of them potentially fatal. But thanks to a German shepherd service dog named Alaya, Andrew doesn't have to be under his parents' watchful eye at all times. He can now go out and play, walk his dog down the street and use the bathroom unaided.
But Andrew's freedom ended at his Virginia schoolhouse doors as the Fairfax County Public School system barred him from bringing Alaya to school with him. “I think what they’ve done has really been an injustice to my son,” Nancy Stevens, Andrew's mother, told Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday. “A service dog is trained very well. If Andrew sits, the dog is going to sit. If Andrew gets up, the dog is going to get up. A service dog will not bite anybody at all," she said, addressing the school's safety concerns.
But after drawing national attention and public outcry from across the country, Change.org reported Tuesday evening that its campaign on Andrew's behalf had successfully forced Andrew's school district to alter their stance. "It's time to celebrate a victory for disability rights, epilepsy awareness and a boy and his dog!" the site said, announcing its members had flooded Andrew's school administrators with 371 emails in protest of the ban.
Today, Ft. Belvoir Elementary officials told Andrew's parents that Andrew could bring Alaya to school with him as early as next week. In the beginning, Angelo and Nancy will accompany Andrew to school, riding the bus with him and staying with him and Alaya during the day. As teachers and students adapt and learn how to interact with Alaya, Andrew's parents will gradually transition away and Andrew and Alaya will go to school together -- as originally planned.
Not only that -- the school is now looking at updating their policy on disability access, Angelo Stevens told Change.org today. This all comes thanks to the grueling work done by Andrew's parents to advocate for their 12-year-old son and his service dog.
The Stevens family created a foundation in Andrew's name, first to raise money for Alaya, and now to raise money for service dogs for other needy children. That foundation, and the TODAY show coverage, has meant that he's been contacted by other parents around the country who are trying to get their childrens' service dogs admitted in schools.