For over 43 years, Broward Children’s Center, Inc. has been a haven for children and young adults with disabilities in Pompano Beach, Florida. Founded in 1971, the program serves children with varied disabilities from all walks of life, which include autism, disabilities from birth, accidents, shaken baby syndrome, lightning strikes and other traumatic events which may have occurred in their lives. Programs and services include three developmental preschools, a Children’s Comprehensive Care Center, two Group Homes, a Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Center, Home Health, a Center for Innovative Technology, Nutrition Program and Respite Services for families.
Disability Independence Group filed a federal lawsuit against the Broward School Board, alleging the district discriminated against Anthony Merchante, a first grader, for imposing too many barriers to bringing his service dog to his elementary school. Anthony Marchante lives with cerebral palsy and is highly prone to seizures. His medium-sized terrier service dog, Stevie, alerts others to oncoming convulsions and helps calm the boy by licking his face. Anthony’s mother, Monica Alboniga said the district at first denied Stevie access to Nob Hill Elementary in Sunrise this year, demanding that she provide liability insurance for the dog and additional vaccinations that did not exist. Stevie was prescribed by Anthony’s neurologist at Miami Children’s Hospital and is part of Anthony’s treatment protocol. In order to be a service animal, the dog must have a temperament that allows it to stay focused on its job. Any dog that would be a direct threat to others would not be a suitable service animal. There cannot be insurance requirements or other conditions that a governmental entity or a public accommodation can place on a service animal. When Anthony’s mom initially brought this matter to the press and requested help and obtained publicity, the school board relented, and allowed Anthony to go to school with his service animal. Then, the School Board shifted tactics and demanded that Monica provide a handler for the dog since the child was not capable of doing so. Monica was required to go school every day just to care for Stevie but she was not allowed to help her son with any other activities. As a service animal, Stevie is trained to stay with Anthony and is constantly tethered to Anthony’s wheelchair, and does not eat or poop during the school day. Since it is legally required under Florida and Federal law, the Broward School Board is allowing the seizure alert and protect dog, but refuses to include the dog in Anthony’s care plan, and maintains that it has no duty to provide a handler for the dog as it disagrees with the medical prescription of Anthony’s neurologist. The Board maintains that caring for the service animal is a “personal service” of which it has no duty. However, as a child with a disability, the school board provides services from feeding to toileting for Anthony, but it considers tethering and untethering a dog from Anthony’s wheelchair is a “personal service” that is more of a burden than feeding or toileting Anthony. Further, even though Stevie was prescribed by Anthony’s neurologist, the School Board contends that this prescribed service is not necessary. However, Anthony’s care plan includes the insertion of a Diastat suppository in the event that Anthony has a seizure, but not the services performed by the dog.
Ms. Alboniga’s suit, filed last month, claims the district is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and The Rehabilitation Act by implementing excessive procedural hurdles. She’s asking the district to amend its policies and ensure that she and Anthony are not forced to fight this matter throughout the rest of Anthony’s schooling, which may last until he is 23 years old.
All cases are dependent on many factors that may or may not be present in all cases. As such, results may not be typical. You may not have as beneficial a result.
On Friday, December 13, 2013, Disability Independence Group held its first annual ‘Balloons and Tunes’ Holiday Party at Broward Children’s Center. To make the holidays special for the children who live at Broward Children’s Center, DIG staff met with the children and gave each a shiny Mylar balloon, with balloons ranging from SpongeBob Squarepants to the Little Mermaid, a CD or DVD, depending on each child’s preference, and stickers. It was a festive day full of smiles and laughter, with DIG staff and the children having wheelchair races down the halls, playing games with the balloons, and adorning the children in stickers.
DIG staff was determined to help make the holidays great for the children at BCC, but it was not only the children who were rewarded, the Balloons and Tunes Holiday Party with the children at BCC left a lasting impression on the DIG staff. DIG plans to make the Balloons and Tunes Party a holiday tradition and is already thinking of ways to make the party bigger and better for the children at Broward Children’s Center next year.