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Dog that helps epileptic boy will get 2-week tryout at school

Andrew Stevens, 12, plays with his service dog, Alaya. The dog has been trained to sense when the boy, who has epilepsy, has a seizure.
Andrew Stevens, 12, plays with his service dog, Alaya. The dog has been trained to sense when the boy, who has epilepsy, has a seizure. (Matt Mcclain For The Washington Post)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 11:09 PM

Fairfax County school officials and the family of an epileptic 12-year-old boy have worked out an agreement that will allow him to attend school with his specially trained service dog on a two-week trial basis.

Beginning Tuesday at Fort Belvoir Elementary School, Andrew Stevens will have Alaya, a 5-year-old German shepherd who Andrew's parents say is trained to detect and respond to seizures that their son experiences as a symptom of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.

The dog carries a magnet in her collar that she can swipe over a surgically implanted vagal nerve stimulator in Andrew's chest. The device sends electric signals to the brain that can ease or stop the seizures.

The school system agreed to allow the dog in school on the condition that Andrew's father, Army Sgt. Angelo Stevens, accompany the boy and the Alaya.

"The father will come to the school and will be the dog's handler for two weeks," said Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier. "We'll have a meeting after the first week to evaluate."

School officials said last week that teachers and aides in Andrew's special-education classroom can respond to emergencies at least as well as the dog. They also said that the animal needs a handler certified under state guidelines and that Andrew, who functions on a kindergarten level academically, has not been certified.

Stevens said he has taken two weeks' leave from his Army intelligence job at Belvoir to ride the school bus and attend class with his son and the dog. He said he will use the time to show school staff and students that Andrew can safely handle the dog - a chief concern of the county.

"We'll start to integrate the dog into the school next Tuesday," Stevens said. "The main process here is to show that Andrew can handle the dog. Andrew will pass with flying colors."

The family's predicament has drawn intense publicity, including an appearance on "Today" on Tuesday morning by Andrew, his mother, Nancy, and Alaya.

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