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Fighting for My Right to Have a Service Dog

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I’m currently in the middle of a career change. I didn’t last very long as a research associate, so I decided to finally follow my heart and pursue a career that I’ve had a hidden passion for: teaching. I embarked on this journey a few months back and recently came to my first hurdle: the California Educator Credentialing Examination (CBEST). It is the first step in the process to becoming a licensed teacher in the state of California.

You see, I want to teach biology. I want to work with ninth and 12th graders and pay forward what my high school biology teacher did for me. I love biology and I love connecting with students. I was looking forward to taking this first step to my license. I prepared for a couple months. I read the prep books, took practice tests, studied my mistakes and mentally prepared myself for the exam. I went to the test center 15 minutes before my scheduled test time, signed in and waited for the coordinator to come out, give me instructions and sign me in.

The minute he saw my service dog, he told me I couldn’t take the exam on my assigned date. I was in a state of shock. I wanted to give in to what the coordinator said and walk out, but I also knew that I had done my preparation ahead of time. When I registered for the exam, I submitted an accommodation request. I stated that I had a service dog and would need to make sure he could go to the test with me. The testing company came back and told me that, and I quote, “Service animals are permitted in the testing room without prior approval.”

Instead of backing down, I told the site coordinator about the steps I took prior to the exam. He came back and insisted that I needed prior approval for my exam with my service dog. I showed him the email from the testing agency and highlighted the clause which cleared me of any wrongdoing. Despite this, he insisted I couldn’t take the exam. He did offer a solution and an accommodation of sorts: my service dog could sit outside for the duration of the exam.

Four hours without my service dog? While he sits outside? I asked him to call the testing agency for clarification. The agent I spoke to after explaining the situation told me that I was “probably” right. He wasn’t sure of the policy either.

The author and her service dog, at the beach. The dog is a black lap

This is 2018.

I left after 45 minutes in anger, disappointment, frustration and anxiety-riddled. I went home, sobbing and thinking about giving up my future career, my dreams, my goals and aspirations. I cried, slept and shared my feelings with a couple of friends. When I woke up, I saw a text from my friend stating I should call the testing agency and try to reschedule. I called the testing agency and once I explained my situation, they told me that I needed to submit an email request for an investigation before they could reschedule my exam. I have a deadline, though. I need to submit my application for my credentialing program so I can work on my volunteer hours in January of 2019 and towards my license shortly thereafter.

Luckily, the fellowship program I am in is aware of the situation and is helping me make sure I don’t get penalized for this situation. I don’t know why it happened, but it did and I know that it is hurtful and frustrating. I fight every day to do something meaningful, to make connections and share my truth, but at the end of the day, it’s wearing down on me and my spirit. I’m exhausted. I’m physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. I’m done fighting, but luckily I’ve got my service dog and close friends to pull me out of this.

Unsplash via Ben Mullins

Originally published: November 19, 2018
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