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Service Animals in Schools – What You Should Know.

On Behalf of | Oct 24, 2015

As an education law and animal law attorney, I have received several calls about discrimination against service animals. One particular call was from the mother of a high school student. Her son had been diagnosed with a seizure disorder and recently, they have grown in frequency and severity during his school day. Although he was being seen by doctors, they had yet to discover what was causing the increase. She was looking into the option of matching him with a service dog. She had some excellent questions: Would the school allow him have a service dog? What process would she have to go through to ensure that the laws protecting his rights to have a service dog are followed? I pointed her to the following information:There are three federal laws that deal with students with disabilities. These are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The IDEA basically requires public schools to provide all children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education.” Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires schools to make appropriate modifications to the educational environment for children with disabilities. It would seem that utilizing a service animal by a student with a disability should be permitted. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to both children and adults, requires that public facilities accommodate people with disabilities. The ADA applies to both public and private schools.28 CFR §36.104 defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Rules regarding the use of service dogs within public premises are fairly well established. However, the rules with respect to the use of service dogs at a school are less settled. The U.S. Department of Education has not issued guidelines and/or policies regarding service animals in schools. Here in Florida though, some guidelines have been established.Because of the lack of clear guidance from federal agencies, in 2010, the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities issued a report. It recommended that the Florida Department of Education provide guidance to school districts addressing the rights and responsibilities of public schools, as well as the expectations for students. Local school boards were to develop practices and policies in the instance of a request for a student’s service animal to accompany him/her to school.Any decisions regarding the accommodations required for any student are to be made on an individual basis. A Florida school district cannot unilaterally prohibit the use of service animals or other accommodations or modifications deemed necessary for a student to access a public school program. The Florida Department of Education noted that when establishing a policy for the use of service animals, consideration for the need and integration of a service animal should be addressed in the student’s individual educational plan (IEP) or developed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504 plan), with documentation supporting the need for the service animal as an accommodation deemed necessary for the student to access the school program. You can access a copy of the Florida Department of Education’s Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services Guidelines for School Districts on the Use of Service Animals by Students with Disabilities here. It is important to check with your particular local school district to see what guidelines they have established. Most, however, should follow the guidelines set forth above and honor your or your child’s need for use of a service animal. Richard Asselta is an education law and animal law attorney, located in Florida. Asselta Law concentrates on Education and Animal Law, as well as Appeals. Asselta Law represents clients throughout the state of Florida and the United States. Contact us today for a free consultation with a knowledgeable education law and animal law lawyer. Credit cards accepted. Affordable payment plans available.