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Emerging Issue: Service Dogs in Schools

May 25, 2011

On July 22, 2010, the Department of Justice issued regulations effective March 15, 2011 implementing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), which applies to public entities, including schools. Pursuant to the new regulations, public entities must modify their policies to allow people with disabilities to use service animals. Title II defines a service animal as a dog (and in limited circumstances, a miniature horse), that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability, and may include assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. A pet or emotional support animal does not qualify as a service animal under Title II, as they have not been trained to perform a specific task that is directly related to an individual's disability. The ADA requires that the service animal be under the control of its handler at all times. In the school context, it is important that requests for use of service animals by students be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Importantly, whether an animal qualifies as a "service animal" under Title II or not, planning and placement teams and Section 504 teams addressing requests for the use of service animals in school must consider if the animal is required to provide an eligible child with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). Recent cases in Oregon, North Carolina and Virginia shed some light on this emerging trend.
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