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HH Poole Middle School is refusing to admit a service dog for a special education student.
HH Poole Middle School is refusing to admit a service dog for a special education student.

 Sarah Garvin hangs out with her service dog, Satin. Satin is not allowed to attend middle school with Sarah.
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Date published: 10/11/2005

Satin is pretty well known. She's been in The Miami Herald, and she's been in parades, but she is not allowed to step paw into H.H. Poole Middle School with her 16-year-old mistress.

Satin is a service dog that accompanies her mistress to restaurants, stores and just about every place there is to go. She can open and close drawers and doors, and she right now is helping her mistress, Sarah Garvin, with communication skills.

Sarah has Down syndrome and childhood arthritis, and as a result, she has trouble being understood and her movements are slower.

Sarah's parents, John and Melodee Garvin, got the dog placed with their daughter through an organization called Canine Companions for Independence years ago.

"I know the dog has helped Sarah," Melodee Garvin said, adding that her daughter has problems enunciating words, and is forced to improve her pronunciation through the dog.

"We want her to learn to do vocal commands," said Melodee Garvin, a paraprofessional.

The Garvins wanted to incorporate Satin into Sarah's educational program. Sarah and Satin attended Winding Creek and Kate Waller Barrett elementary schools in Stafford County. But officials at H.H. Poole Middle School have said no.

The Garvins say they were told the dog would cause problems for other students allergic to the dander.

John Garvin says his daughter's rights are being violated. He has appealed the decision to the School Board and spoken with the state Attorney General's Office. Thus far, he's been unsuccessful, but the family is not giving up the fight.

Daryl Nelson, Stafford County Public Schools executive director of administrative and legal services, said he could not talk about a specific case, like the Garvins'.

However, he did say that service dogs were not automatically admitted into the school, although he does know of at least one instance where a dog is admitted to Stafford County schools.

"There is an application process," he said. "It is decided based on how much it is needed by the child. We have to do the right thing by all the children. Some children might be allergic or fearful."

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