Metro-East News

Columbia school district appeals decision to allow dog into school

The Columbia School District has appealed a Monroe County judge's decision to allow a 5-year-old autistic boy to bring his autism service dog to school.

Melissa and Chris Kalbfleisch, of Columbia, filed for an injunction asking a judge to overturn a decision made by the district superintendent prohibiting their son, Carter, from bringing his service dog, Corbin, to his pre-kindergarten special education classes.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Dennis Doyle granted a temporary restraining order Thursday to prevent the school from prohibiting the dog to attend class with Carter. Doyle cited Illinois state law permitting service dogs in the classroom in his decision.

The school district appealed the decision to the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon, seeking to have the injunction put on hold or extended. It argues that Doyle misinterpreted the Illinois law and that the dog doesn't serve any kind of educational purpose.

Doyle's order is to take effect Sept. 14, meaning Carter could attend classes before then but without the dog.

Carter was diagnosed with autism at 18 months, Melissa Kalbfleisch said. He is prone to severe outbursts, anxiety attacks, violent reactions and running away. He is compelled to eat inappropriate things like mulch and rocks, and he doesn't speak. Two specialists at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis prescribed the autism service dog for Carter.

Since Corbin became Carter's companion in mid-July, the family has been able to take Carter shopping and on a family vacation. They got to hear him speak his first meaningful words, commanding Corbin to "wait" and to "hold." And because Corbin relieves his fear and anxiety, Carter has begun interacting with people.

Melissa Kalbfleisch testified the dog is able to calm her son more quickly and efficiently than the teachers and aides. Tantrums, anxiety, incessant hand-flapping and breakdowns that took teachers 30 minutes or more to stop take just a few minutes with Corbin intervening.

Every public place, store and restaurant has welcomed Corbin as a service dog without issue, Chris Kalbfleisch said.