Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, October 14, 2019

State rep candidate who fought teacher's union to keep service dog Jasper in school: 'I have to run'

By Record News | Oct 3, 2016

MILAN – Brandi McGuire, who proved that a Labrador retriever belonged in school, aims to prove that she belongs in the Illinois Legislature.

She holds a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot for State Representative in the 72nd District, as a newcomer out to protect other families from what happened to hers.  

Court records show that a teacher with personal interest sabotaged a partnership between her daughter, Kellsey McGuire, and Jasper the dog.  

Jasper sounds an alert when Kellsey suffers an epileptic seizure.  

The teacher’s union supported the teacher, and administrators didn’t stop her.  

A hearing officer, after taking 40 hours of testimony, classified her as a bully.  

He ordered the Sherrard school board to pay Kellsey’s tuition at Catholic school.  

McGuire thinks Kellsey’s experience would make a great movie.  

“The happy ending would be when Brandi McGuire gets elected so no family ever has to go through it again,” she said.

“I want to be a voice for the community like my community was a voice for me.”  

She said people put up 800 “justice for Jasper” signs.

“I don’t have a choice. I need to run. I have to,” she said.

She won the Republican primary in May, over Jordan Thoms, with 59 percent.  

In November, voters will choose between McGuire and Democrat Mike Halpin.  

Jasper’s nature may have saved his life, for a trainer from Disability Assistance Dogs found him at a shelter in 2013.  

The trainer tested his temperament and found him suitable for service.  

After 450 hours of training, Disability Assistance Dogs matched him with Kellsey.  

At a Sherrard grade school assembly on Jan. 13, 2014, trainers introduced Jasper and explained how to interact with him while he worked.  

McGuire and others observed art teacher Hilary Plog, who owned a different dog training school, sending text messages.  

Principal Victoria Connelly asked her about the messages, according to testimony at the hearing, and Plog said she reported violations to the Justice Department.  

On Jan. 22, 2014, Plog brought a dog to her room.  

According to testimony, as Kellsey and others stood in line outside her room, Plog opened the door so abruptly that Jasper barked.  

The dog in her room barked back and kept barking after Kellsey calmed Jasper.  

According to testimony, Plog said, “That’s no way a service dog is supposed to act.”  

She told Kellsey she would not allow Jasper in the room.  

McGuire and husband Colin pulled Kellsey out of art class, but that didn’t help.  

On Jan. 24, Plog sent Connelly a message about laws Kellsey and Jasper violated.  

On Feb. 10, Plog startled Jasper and he barked.  

That evening, Connelly told McGuire she wouldn’t allow Jasper in school until after a meeting with interim superintendent Dick Stolz.  

Next day, Stolz walked Jasper around his office and introduced him to employees.  

He said he saw nothing wrong, and that Kellsey and Jasper could return.  

Later that day, Connelly told McGuire that Jasper couldn’t return after all.  

Connelly said Plog told her she would call police if he came.

McGuire put Kellsey and Jasper on the morning bus anyway.  

Connelly met them and took them inside through the farthest entrance.  

Plog spotted them and made a beeline for them.  

Connelly took Jasper’s harness and they ducked into the computer room.  

When they came out, Plog caught up and she would tell Stolz she ran from her.  

Next day, Stolz gave Connelly a statement of events that Plog and her union president had prepared.  

Connelly would testify that when she tried to confirm the events, several teachers put in writing that they didn’t witness anything.  

That night, after Kellsey suffered her third seizure in a week, her parents decided to enroll her at Jordan Catholic School.  

Connelly resigned the next day, saying she failed Kellsey.  

The school board has brought her back and promoted her, McGuire said.  

McGuire said she didn’t mind. She said, “She told the truth.”  

At the end of the school year, Plog resigned.  

McGuire then sued the Sherrard school board in federal court at Rock Island, seeking damages for physical harm and emotional distress.  

The suit gained strength when Illinois Board of Education hearing officer Michael Risen vindicated Jasper and blistered Plog.  

“The harassment resulted in such severe or pervasive environment that it altered the condition of the student’s education,” Risen wrote.   

He wrote that administrators demonstrated almost complete indifference to the hostile environment Plog created.  

He wrote that the district isolated Kellsey from friends, “when she was forced to go through alternate doors and hide out in classrooms in order to avoid her bully.”  

He noted her immediate success at Jordan.  

The school board responded to the decision by filing a suit of its own against Risen, the state board, Kellsey, and her parents.  

The board claimed that, “Plog did not provoke Jasper or make any comments to K. M. that could be considered harassment.”  

Chief District Judge James Shadid consolidated the suits.  

McGuire moved for summary judgment in July 2015, arguing that the board simply asked the court to accept Plog’s contradictory and inconsistent testimony.  

After two months the board hadn’t responded, so Shadid asked for a joint report.  

McGuire and the board told him they settled both cases.  

Then the campaign began.

“I’m a citizen candidate,” McGuire said. “I wasn’t chosen. I wasn’t supposed to be the one.”

In the weeks after voters chose her, unpleasant little events piled up.   

First, she said, she received an inquiry about the workers’ compensation record of a driver training school she runs.  

“We haven’t had a claim in 17 years,” she said.

“I filled it out and sent it back and told them the company belongs to my father and I’m a director.

“They sent him a letter and everything’s good.”  

She said a woman in Chicago sent freedom of information requests to high schools for their contracts with her driving school.  

She said she doesn’t have any.

“I don’t know what they got from it or what they’re going to do with it.”  

She said she received a summons for jury duty and waited days before finding out she didn’t have to go.  

She said someone called her landlord and said her signs on the top of the marquee violated city ordinances.

“He asked me and I said, they’ll come down after November eighth,” she said.   

She said a postal employee opened her bulk mail and read it in front of her.

“He said he had to make sure it was political. It’s legal for them to do it.”  

She said that after she left work one day, her intern photographed a woman pulling paper from her dumpster.  

She said the woman would have found copies of mailers.

“It’s too much in too short a time. It makes me want to get elected even more.”

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Brandi Mcguire for State Representative