Jenson is a standard poodle with an important job — keeping Jack Baldwin’s anxiety at bay. But it’s not clear if the 9 year old will be allowed to bring the service dog to school with him.
Jack is on the autism spectrum and sometimes gets overwhelmed. Math homework for example can be pretty frustrating.
“I get angry, then my mom gets Jenson to give me hugs and calm me down and I get back to work and finish it,” he said.
When he first met Jenson in January it was non-stop smiles, followed by tears. His mother became emotional recalling that day.
“I said ‘Jack what’s wrong, are you sad?’ he said, ‘No, I am crying because I am so happy. This dog is for me, to help me,” said Donna Baldwin.
Their bond is already evident, and once Jenson, a certified service dog, consistently responds to Jack’s commands he’s supposed to go to St. Teresa Catholic Elementary School with Jack all day.
As a first step, Jack’s mom took Jenson inside the school to drop off Jack — just for a few minutes, to help with the transition.
“The next day I got a call saying the dog was not allowed on school property,” said Baldwin.
“It makes me feel sad,” said Jack.
The Waterloo Catholic District School Board declined requests from Global News for an interview. Instead, a spokesman sent an email acknowledging service animals are allowed in schools.
“Students have a right to attend school with a service animal in those portions of the school building that they access for their education — if indeed that is an accommodation that is deemed necessary,” wrote chief managing officer John Shewchuck.
But he added the following, “Under the Education Act, schools are not public spaces.”
No one has responded to requests for clarification.
When Global News phoned the principal of St. Teresa he would not answer any questions.
“I understand your questions but I can’t comment at this time,” said Bryan Cinti.
Then he said he had to go for another call and would phone back.
Global News did not receive a return call.
As for the school board’s point that a school is not a “public space,” one expert says that’s not really relevant.
“A school is obviously delivering a public service so the issue of public (or) private property doesn’t really arise at all in the law,” said Jennifer Ramsay with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
“It’s just literally walking on the premises to meet their child, and that not being allowed is a huge surprise,” said Ian Ashworth, Director of Program Development at Dog Guides Canada.
Service dogs are “allowed everywhere — they’re allowed in supermarkets and stores — and to be not allowed in school is very, very surprising,” he said.
According to an agenda obtained by Global News, the school board is reviewing its service dog policies at the next meeting.
When asked how much he would like to have Jenson by his side at school, Jack summed it up in just a few words.
“So much, it’s unbelievable.”