Service Dogs in Schools

Dogs in school?!

Why yes, it is true you may indeed see dogs in school.

One of the most asked questions about service dogs and the access they have, is about school. Schools are considered public spaces—while some states are very clear on this making statement like “educational facilities public or privately funded…”; other states are more general about “public spaces”.

The federal law supersedes all state laws and does require access for these canine tools—however this is not an invitations for schools to have countless dogs dumped on them. There are some guidelines.

The ADA (American With Disabilities Act) secures access for all tools being used by a person who has a disability so that those tools can help that person to expand their independence. The ADA is clear that the facilities must allow for the tools to enter and have appropriate access to the environment but, that the facility ( often the school) is not responsible for the tool.

This means the school cannot be asked or required to provide an aid, teacher or other staff member to oversee the dog and child during the school day. If the child is capable of being fully responsible for the dog in public (this is most often shown through the taking of a Public Access Test given by the training organization—see www.ADIonline.org for a sample test) then the child/dog team should be allowed full access in school. When a child is able to pass this test without the help of a parent or caregiver, the child has full access to malls, stores, and even school.

Schools should allow for reasonable accommodations for the child / canine team by having outdoor trash receptacles near the accessible area the child will use for the dog’s bathroom needs and possibly adjusting chairs in the classroom to allow for the space needed by the dog. Providing a person to attend the dog for the child is not expected or required of the school.

Schools should be aware that fears and allergies are addressed by the ADA as not valid reasons for refusing a service dog. They should also be aware that while they may request information on the dogs they cannot require it—such as rabies certifications. Often parents and students are willing to provide this information to help the school be more secure in supporting the needs of the student but they do this out of a desire to work with the school—a request is often met with success where a requirement will be met with hostility and often defiance.

Parents need to remember this is a tool to help their child not a battle of wills. As a parent many people ask the school for too much. The school is there for many children not just one. They have valid concerns and questions that need to be answered in a respectful way—offer to have someone come to the school for a meeting or assembly to address these questions. Remember not to ask for more than reasonable accommodations for your child.

On average children are in their early teens before they can test successfully and independently on a public access test. There may be some children outside this range, but between 12—14 is when most children will attempt the test on their own. Until then children are facilitated. (see our info on Facilitation for more details) In short this is like having a drivers permit for a car; you may operate the car in public when you have an approved supervisor—the same holds true for the dog. Schools should be aware that during this time the dog must be allowed in the school when the dog is working with the child under the supervision of the parent, such as at an after school activity like a basketball game or art show. Again, outdoor trash receptacles will be helpful if provided by the school.