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Monday, December 12, 2011

Deafblind girl refuses to go to school after teachers BAN guide dog from dining hall because another pupil has allergy

Another pupil who uses the canteen is severely allergic to dogs

By Jessica Satherley

A deaf and blind teenager is refusing to go to school after teachers banned her guide dog from the dining hall.

Molly Watt, 17, says she was left to eat lunch alone in a separate room because another pupil who uses the canteen is allergic to the dog.

She has since been signed off sick by a doctor after suffering a panic attack when she was separated from her black Labrador-retriever cross named Unis.

Best friends: Molly Watt, 17, says she was left to eat lunch alone in a separate room because another pupil is allergic to her dog

The A-level student, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, has not attended classes at Mary Hare School in Newbury, Berkshire, since November 3.

And the pupil, who has been nominated by deafblind charity Sense to carry the Olympic flame, says she will not return until the ban is lifted.

Her mother Jane, 46, said Molly is ‘besotted’ with her dog and becomes ‘distressed’ when her companion is not by her side.

Jane, a charity worker, said: ‘The school has banned Molly from taking Unis into the dining room.

‘The dog gives her independence and freedom and means everything to her.

‘She has been left to eat alone in a separate room and that stress has left her feeling incredibly down.

‘She should be able to socialise with friends at lunchtime like everybody else.

‘She was shaking, having panic attacks and was unable to sleep after being asked to leave Unis in a sideroom. Her doctor has signed her off sick.

Home-bound: The A-level student, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, has not attended classes at Mary Hare School in Newbury, Berkshire, since November 3

‘My main concern is Molly's well-being and education. She doesn't deserve what is happening to her.’

Molly - who is studying English, textiles and performing - was born deaf and lost her sight aged 14.

That prompted her to move from mainstream education to the specialist boarding school for deaf children.

She initially relied on a cane or a friend to guide her between rooms but was ‘embarrassed’ to be seen with the stick.

No dogs allowed: Mary Hare School chiefs have banned Molly's dog from the school dining room

She was given Unis in July and returned to school before the start of term in September so the two-year-old dog could learn the layout of the buildings.

But concerns were raised about the welfare of another pupil who has a ‘hyper sensitivity to allergens’ - particularly animals.

It means he is at risk of a fatal anaphylactic shock if he comes into contact with the dog.

Her mother said: ‘Molly used to bump into things and be covered in bruises.

‘She is a young girl who is fashion conscious and did not like to be seen with a cane. She would rather fall over.

‘The alternative arrangements the school has put in place are not good enough.’

School principal Tony Shaw says he consulted medical experts and charity groups before making alternative arrangements, which included re-timetabling lessons and banning the dog from the dining room.

Family portrait: Molly with her mother Jane, a charity worker

He said it leaves Molly without Unis for less than two hours a week and he believes she could use alternative support - such as a stick or friend - to guide her during this time.

Mr Shaw said it was ‘regretful’ that restrictions were necessary but stressed they had the backing of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

He added: ‘One pupil has recently been provided with a guide dog to ensure her safe mobility and the school has been working hard to accommodate her needs.

‘Another student has a current medical diagnosis of hyper sensitivity to allergens and in particular to the allergens from animals, including dogs.

‘Mary Hare has an equal duty of care to both students and a duty to ensure that any adjustments affecting the use of a guide dog are reasonable and proportionate.

‘The solution has involved re-timetabling and changes of class locations to avoid use of the same rooms and two restrictions on the movements of the guide dog.

‘These restrictions involve the hall used for weekly assembly and the main dining hall.

‘The expert medical advice has been that if the dog enters either room, the other pupil cannot use them.’

Molly was named Young Deafblind Person of the Year 2010 by deafblind charity Sense and was nominated to carry the Olympic flame.

A petition called Justice 4 Deafblind guide-dog Owner Molly Watt has been signed by more than a thousand people, including former alumni.



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