Student Appeals Suspension and Dog’s Ban from Campus


Photo by: Lukas Newcomb

Larry Rodriguez (Left) and his dog Zapata (right) have been banned from campus effective Sept. 8 following a letter from the college’s interim vice president of student services. Rodriguez and his companion dog have been told they are not permitted on the FCC campus after alleged reports that Rodrigez’s dog has barked and attacked students. Rodriguez maintains that his dog is not wild.

A Fresno City College student has appealed his suspension from all State Center Community College campuses because of “disruptive behavior” involving him and his service dog, Zapata.

Larry Rodriguez, 63, is also asking the college community to support his petition and to write testimonies about his dog’s good behavior. He says hundreds of signatures have already been collected.

Rodriguez told the Rampage that he seeks legal guidance on how best to proceed with fighting the college’s suspension.

Why have I been denied due process?” Rodriguez asked in an appeal letter presented to college administrators Tuesday.  He states that he was illegally harassed and discriminated against as described in Administrative Regulation 5530. Rodriguez said he is frustrated because no one is listening to his story or considering the impact a suspension will have on his and Zapata’s lives.

“Both of us have been in class together; No one has had a problem with his [Zapata’s] behavior; teachers, as well as students have had no difficulties,” his letter stated. “How can one person have the power to give an order to make a life unsound?”

Rodriguez arrived to campus Tuesday with Zapata in order to drop off the letters of appeal and grievances. His objective was to meet with FCC President Carole Goldsmith, Interim Vice President of Student Services Rojelio Vasquez and Paul Parnell, chancellor of State Center Community College District.

SCCCD Police approached Rodriguez during his brief visit. Police warned he could be arrested for being on campus but was not.

“I am fully aware that my Zapata would be arrested,” Rodriguez said. “I was hoping for that result; this way, I would have an audience.”  

Rodriguez said that his financial aid and grants are being taken away due to his suspension.

My life has just been destroyed. For the last two and a half years, that’s my only survival,” he said. “I will become homeless and, most likely, become a danger to society.”

Rodriguez’s suspension came in a letter from Vasquez on Sept. 8. The letter informed Rodriguez that he and Zapata were suspended from the college campus for failure to follow orders to keep the dog under control and off campus.

“[Zapata] poses a threat and danger to the population at [FCC],” Vasquez stated in the letter. “On numerous occasions, Zapata has growled, barked aggressively, chased students, and has been left unattended on the [FCC] campus.”

As a result of the suspension, Rodriguez was dropped from all of his fall semester classes, in accordance with the provisions of Administrative Regulation 5520.

Vasquez’ letter directed Rodriguez to “not return to campus for any purpose without permission” or he could be subjected to arrest and more sanctions.

According to the letter, the suspension resulted from a prolonged dispute about the presence of Rodriguez’ service dog on campus.  

On Aug. 18, Rodriguez was also presented with a letter which banned Zapata from the FCC campus.  Zapata’s ban resulted from “three police reports involving the dog’s aggressive behavior and four disruptive behavior reports involving the dog’s disruptive behavior.”

Despite the ban, there were several sightings of Zapata within campus buildings; on Aug. 30 in the DSP&S office, the president’s office and the Forum hall, according to Vasquez’ letter to Rodriguez.

The August letter banning Zapata cited three specific cases filed on Feb. 2, May 3 and July 27 with the SCCCD police about the dog’s “threat and danger” to the college population. The cases were about the dog not being on a leash, “barking aggressively” and chasing a student.

Rodriguez insists that Vasquez’ letter ignores the fact that Zapata is licensed by the city of Fresno as a service dog and is very essential to his well-being. A representative for the city said that service dogs are allowed to go anywhere their handlers go unless they are deemed “out of control.” The person is still welcome, however; only the dog is banned.

According to information on service animals, posted on the website of the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, the American with Disabilities Act does not overrule legitimate safety requirements such as those cited in the suspension letter to Rodriguez.

“If a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded,” according to the website.

Rodriguez said he is worried that the suspension could cause him to become homeless again and resort to drastic behavior.  In a previous interview with the Rampage, Rodriguez said he was homeless and did whatever he could to survive.

Rodriguez said that his financial aid was terminated when he was suspended. Rodriguez told the Rampage he doesn’t believe he will be able to pay his rent next month and would have to live on the streets. He added that he has no resources and no access to a lawyer to guide him in this situation.

The suspension letter indicates that Rodriguez could be considered for enrollment in the spring semester if he is willing to meet with Vasquez before the end of the fall semester.

“He [Zapata] doesn’t bother anyone anyway.  I [have] him on a leash,” Rodriguez said, insisting that his dog is not a threat to students. “I’m a student. I’m entitled to an education, and they are denying it to me.”

Rodriguez said he wants students to help him by writing letters to the college administrators.

He told the Rampage Tuesday that he wants students to write letters to President Goldsmith, Chancellor Parnell and Interim Director of Student Services Sean Henderson asking to reverse their decision. He also urges students to protest the college’s decision.

The response from students on social media and the Rampage website has overwhelmed Rodriguez. He said that even though he doesn’t know the students who are sticking up for him, he appreciates the strong support.

Rodriguez said, “It’s just not right to destroy somebody’s life.”