12-year-old Epileptic Denied Service Dog in School

Andrew Stevens, a twelve-year-old boy with severe epilepsy, was looking forward to starting 6th grade with his service dog Alaya, until the Fairfax County school district informed Andrew’s parents that the dog would not be allowed to attend school with Andrew. 

The reason, as reported by The Washington Post, is three-fold. First, the school believes that their staff can do anything that Alaya can do. Second, the school asserts that according to state guidelines, the dog must have a handler, and that Andrew–who functions cognitively at a kindergarten level–does not fit the criteria. Finally, Alaya was trained by Seizure Alert Dogs For Life, a for-profit organization and not Assistance Dogs International, the nonprofit that the state of Virginia recognizes.

Why is Alaya necessary?

Andrew Stevens has a severe form of epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome that is not controllable with medication. Alaya is able to detect some of Andrew’s seizures before they happen and comfort him. Others she responds to within 5 seconds, swiping a magnet in her collar over an implant in Andrew’s chest that sends an electrical impulse to his brain to shorten the seizures. A teacher can take as long as 30-45 seconds to respond from the front of the classroom. 

Alaya can also help cushion the fall if Andrew has a seizure while standing or walking. In addition to Alaya, Andrew wears a helmet constantly to lessen the risk of hitting his head. If a seizure lasts too long, Alaya will bite down on a cell phone on Andrew’s belt, which will alert 911. It’s clear that the dog brings Andrew a great deal of comfort. He told Matt Lauer “I love Alaya forever.

Until Andrew’s family can reach a deal with the school district, Andrew is being homeschooled. His mother says that because of the severity of his epilepsy, doctors have told them that Andrew may not live past his teen years. The Stevens family has not given up. They have contacted school officials and are planning to use the Americans With Disabilities Act to defend their son’s right to have Alaya in school with him.

Past Lawsuits
In 2008, a St. Paul family sued their school district for denying their son’s autism service dog to attend school with the child.

In 2009, the family of Kaleb Drew sued their Chicago school district and won. Six-year-old Kaleb was able to start school that year with Chewey, his autism service dog. One of Chewey’s many functions is to stop Kaleb from running into traffic at pickup time, something that his parents say he is prone to do.

In November of 2010, a Florida family sued for the right to bring their son’s service dog to school. The little boy, six-year-old JC Bowen, has both autism and epilepsy and was prone to running in fear after he came out of a seizure. J.C.’s dog can also help him with his spatial issues and will stop him from crashing into things. 


As of Tuesday, Andrew began a two-week trial with Alaya at his Elementary School, reports The Washington Post. Apparently the agreement was reached after Andrew’s father, Army Sgt. Angelo Stevens, agreed to acompany Andrew as Alaya’s handler. Sgt. Stevens has taken two weeks off from his Army job to act as Alaya’s handler. Sgt. Stevens feels confident that the two week trial will show administrators that Alaya is impeccably trained and that Andrew is capable of handling the dog.  As Sgt. Stevens told The Washington Post, “The main process here is to show that Andrew can handle the dog. Andrew will pass with flying colors.”

It is wonderful that Andrew will be able to attend school with both Alaya and his father by his side, but it begs the question, should someone who works in Army Intelligence have to take time off so that his child can have a service dog and attend school safely?

Related Stories: 

Drop Your Disabled Kids at a Shelter, Indiana Parents Are Told

Norm’s Story–From Rescue to Service Dog

Justice for Gooch: Service Dog Killed by Groomer


Photo thanks to Pete Markham via flickr


Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago

All Service Dogs should be allowed any where their person goes!!!!!

Fiona T.
Past Member 5 years ago

Doggies can help a lot

Elizabeth W.
Elizabeth W5 years ago

So sad that the school put up that much fuss over something that is obviously necessary for a severe medical condition. I'm glad to hear everything has worked out okay, but it shouldn't have to - it should have been fine all along.

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

Update- Andrew and Alaya are an awesome team and doing very well in school together, Andrew is the handler and moves the dog like a pro, she also mothers him and takes excellent care of him. A few comments I wanted to address, Andrew is not retarded, or mentally challenged he has issues related to the severe epilepsy that has made learning difficult, he has come a long ways since the service dog and is starting to catch up with the normal 6th grade routine.

I personally want to thank everyone here for all the support, if you look at FCPS Service Dog policy you will see it has undergone massive changes to bring them current with the law, and we are working on making sure the entire state follows, combined we have already assisted 19 other familes with service dog access issues across 7 states, and we are not stopping now.

Service Dogs save lives, and children have a better understanding and acceptance of difference because the world has not corrupted them yet, they are still innocent and full of love and I plan to make sure our kids stay that way, they are our future and I am proud of how strong Andrew is, and how much he inspires others.

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

Diehard. I would like to get some things set straight. I am Andrews Mom . I went to School with my Son for a week after my husband did to make the School happy. Andrew is in a speical class because he has a hard time learning because of all the Seizures he has had.People who have Seizures can have a hard time learning because of the Seizures and know some things one day and another day forget what they have learned. The people who were saying things about my son didn't even know my son. He was home schooled for a year and a half because his Doctor and I agree that being at school and haveing 20 to 30 seizure while there would not be good for him .Andrew had two great Teachers that came to our home to work with him one on one . We all felt like it was good for Andrew to go back to School and he wanted to be around other children. The children at School are very kind to my son. It is people like you that make it very hard for people to be different . My son is like all other boys his age ,he likes to play vidoe games and other games. And some sport's. Thou he can't play them he still like to be around and be part of it. God made us all . Andrew can handle his serivce dog and the School knows this . They have now changed there laws on serivce dogs to follow the ADA Laws. Now ever state needs to do the same. My son is a very careing and loveing person and would never talk or say anything bad about others like you have. He is smarter than you are.

colleen prinssen
colleen p6 years ago

why did they even want a dog, when so many people are fighting to have non dogs? that rats and ferrets and pigs do a better job at this.
rats are the best service animal, and even a tortoise can be used for everything!

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle7 years ago

The school offered poor text-book excuses. DO WHAT'S BEST FOR THE CHILD!!! Incredible, that a family has to work so hard for what's best for their child? And the father had to take off two weeks from his job, to prove it?! Clearly, with all her skills, Alaya is better for Andrew than a teacher. I really wish we had more common sense, and less arcane rules.

Paula Gillis
Paula G7 years ago

What century are we in?

Chrissy Mead
Chrissy Mead7 years ago

Typical Fairfax County.

Christine S.
Christine S7 years ago

Trained service dogs should be allowed anywhere, period.