Monday, May 12, 2008

When rights collide 

I find this story a bit bizarre. A student teacher from SCSU training in special education , Tyler Hurd of Mahtomedi, has a medical condition that occasionally causes him to have seizures. A service dog protects the young man, with a pouch to help assist the man when he is down. He was training at St. Cloud Technical High School, but was forced to leave the school before completing his training because the dog's safety was threatened. Hurd and his dangerous dog Emmitt are there to your left.

You need to go down about ten paragraphs in the story to get what the debate is about, but let's pick up the story at graf 8:

The school district and university are working to make sure a similar situation doesn't happen.

Kate Steffens, dean of the college of education at St. Cloud State, and Tech assistant principal Lori Lockhart met Thursday.

The threat came from a Somali student who is Muslim, according to Hurd, St. Cloud State and school district officials.

The Muslim faith, which is the dominant faith of Somali immigrants, forbids the touching of dogs.

So let's take a look at this as a case of competing rights. On one side we have a student with a medical disability. One would think that the Americans with Disabilities Act would allow this student to participate to the fullest extent possible in pursuing his goals, which is to teach in special education. To do so, he is supposed to train in both elementary and secondary school settings. (The article notes that Hurd had no such problems with Somali students at his elementary school assignment.)

On the other side, we have a student at Tech HS whose faith considers dogs unclean and is asserting his right to education in an institution without dogs. This not only affects student teachers; any student with a sight or hearing disability may use a dog for assistance and might want to also attend Tech HS. Whose rights dominate?

Julia Espe, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for St. Cloud school district, said the school needed to do a better job communicating.

�I think it was a misunderstanding where we didn't really prepare either side for possible implications," Espe said.

Espe said the school's investigation determined the student did not make a direct threat.

Maybe so, but it was enough for everyone to agree that Hurd could waive away his last ten hours of student teaching.

Steffens said it is important to respect different cultures and the rights of disabled students.

�I think this is part of the growth process when we become more diverse," Steffens said.

But when rights collide, as they did here, whose rights did they choose to uphold first?

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