Disability Laws Regarding Service Dogs in Schools

As a federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act supersedes all state and local laws requiring access for service dogs in schools. However, there are guidelines and rules that USA Service Dogs wants to help you to understand regarding service dogs in schools.

• A person with a disability can bring a service dog to school if the dog helps expand their independence. Schools must permit the dogs to have appropriate access to facilities along with the student. However, the school is not responsible for providing care, food, or relief areas for the dog.

• A school district’s procedures, practices, and policies must be modified to permit the use a service dog by a student with a disability. As a component of a free appropriate public education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act also may require school districts to allow a service dog to accompany a student with a disability to school.

• The public areas of schools are covered by the ADA. Exceptions include schools that do not receive federal funding or are controlled by a religious entity. Public areas of schools include the cafeteria during a public fundraising event, auditorium during a public exhibition, administrative offices, and gymnasium during a public sporting event. The ADA does not consider classrooms as public areas of the school.

• When parents want a service dog to accompany a child with a disability to school, the first step under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is adding the service dog to the child's Individual Education Plan. The parents can appeal to the Department of Education if the school is not willing to allow the service dog to enter the premises with the student who has a disability.

The ADA addresses fears of dog and allergies as not being valid reasons for refusing a service dog to enter the premises. Schools may request information on the dogs but cannot require any data, including rabies certifications. Frequently, parents willingly provide this information to help the school feel confident in supporting the student's needs, but if they do so it is voluntary and usually stems from a desire to work together with the school.

Assisting Students with a Service Dog in School

While a student is accountable for care of the service dog, including supervision, relief, and feeding, the student's parents can work with the school to create an assistance plan for the student and dog until he can comfortably handle it at school, particularly if the student is young. At a minimum, the parents and school district should agree on a plan that allows the student significant time to care for his service dog as well as a designated location for the dog’s relief needs.

Differentiating Between a Service and Therapy Dog

A service animal has training specific to tasks necessary to mitigate the disability of their handler. This varies from the services that companion or therapy pets provide. For students with service dogs, the burden is on the parents to confirm that the animal has been adequately trained to perform specific tasks to alleviate the disability of the student. There must be some evidence demonstrating that the dog can perform the tasks it needs to do to help the student.

Service Dog Certification

Under the ADA, schools must allow service dogs who accompany a student with a disability access. To obtain a service dog certification, follow these six steps:

  1. Assess age and health of potential service dog
  2. Personality testing
  3. Find a reputable service dog trainer
  4. Put in the requisite time to adequately train the dog
  5. Pass the Public Access Test
  6. Register and equip the service dog

At USA Service Dogs, we can help your child with a service dog and ensure entrance to school with him.