TUALATIN, Ore. - After she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, Anika Bjornson, a 5th grader from Tualatin, had enough to worry about.
Irritability, dangerous complications from low blood sugar, even comas were all concerns.
But now Bjornson must also switch schools in order to bring her trained service dog to class with her.
Bjornson, who suffers from Type I diabetes, takes her 9-month-old lab, Bassie, with her everywhere she goes. Bassie is professionally trained to detect changes in blood sugar using scent and “paws” the 10 year old when her sugar is too high or too low.
That’s how Bjornson knows to prick her finger and conduct a more detailed blood test.
"I would feel really hot and shaky, like I couldn't really balance myself," Bjornson said.
She and her mom, Debbie, recently asked her school permission to bring the service animal to class with her, thinking they were covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But the school, Horizon Christian Elementary, said no.
Bjornson says school administrators worried other kids might suffer from pet allergies, classmates would be too distracted by the dog, or Bassie would simply make a mess in the school building.
Bassie seems to fit the legal definition of a qualified service dog under the Americans With Disabilities Act, since he is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
And the Justice Department also says that schools can’t deny service animals access simply because some kids might be allergic.
But KATU News found that Horizon Christian School is completely within its right to keep Bassie out.
Since the school is a religious organization, the rules laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act don't apply in this case.
Speaking off camera, a school representative said the school is sorry, but they are doing what's best for other students.
Bjornson is now transferring to public school, where the service animal must be allowed.
"The teacher requested me," she said. "He wanted me in his class because he loves animals."