Defying a state agency's order to comply with New York's human rights laws, a Westbury principal yesterday refused to allow a deaf student to bring his service dog to school.
Principal Timothy Voels stood outside the main entrance of W. Tresper Clarke High School yesterday morning when John Cave, 15, of Westbury, arrived with his hearing dog, Simba. Voels and a sign language translator spoke to the teenager, his mother, Nancy Cave, and family attorney Paul Margiotta as reporters watched from a distance.
John Cave left and did not attend classes yesterday. The minute-long confrontation was the latest salvo in the yearlong battle between Cave and East Meadow school district officials, who have said the Labrador retriever, trained to alert Cave to noises and oncoming vehicles, poses a safety threat to students.
The school's refusal to let Simba attend classes with Cave sets up a possible showdown with the state Division of Human Rights, which on Monday told the district to change its policy on service animals.
"I don't think they know what they're doing," John Cave said of district officials. "I think they're going to be in big trouble with the state."
The human rights agency yesterday did not immediately seek a court order forcing the district to allow the dog into school. "At this point, we are not ready to comment on what, if anything, we may do," spokesman Thomas Shanahan said. Generally, the agency's orders are carried out without having to resort to a court order, state Human Rights Commissioner Kumiki Gibson has said.
On Monday, Gibson said the district's refusal to allow Cave to bring Simba to school constitutes discrimination. East Meadow Superintendent Leon Campo said the district would appeal.
Campo said yesterday the district would allow the dog inside the school if a court orders it to do so. "Whatever the state courts decide, how they rule on this matter, we will abide by," Campo said. "We'll continue to make the arguments that we're not only acting in the best interest of John Cave ... but all the 8,000 students that we are responsible for."
Cave, a sophomore, has hearing implants but doesn't always wear them because he says they are uncomfortable. During the long-running conflict, he has been attending school without Simba, though his family believes separating the two during school hours will cause the retriever to forget his training.
"This has been a terrible, stressful year-and-a-half for our family," Nancy Cave said. "I'm tired of people discriminating against my son."
With Simba lying at his feet, John Cave told reporters he was nervous before school yesterday. "I didn't get enough sleep last night, so I'm going to go home and rest," he said.