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The More You Know: Service Animals

By Net Assets posted 08-01-2018 10:50 AM

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Risk Management |

A visually impaired student requests to bring a service dog to school. Her teacher is severely allergic to animal hair. What do you do?

From the July/August 2018 Net Assets magazine

The following is an excerpt of the article "The More You Know," which covers nine additional topics (see box below). 

    This information is provided for general educational purposes only. It should not be relied upon as, or in place of, legal advice. The authors and reader do not have an attorney/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to work with their legal counsel when addressing specific issues.

    By Candice Pinares-Baes, Fisher Phillips

    Lily is a first-grade student who is visually impaired. Her mother requests that she be allowed to attend school with her service dog, Doodles. Lily’s teacher is severely allergic to animal hair, and several students in Lily’s class are afraid of dogs. What do you do?

    This is becoming a more frequent issue for independent schools. Federal and often state law limit the circumstances under which schools may exclude service animals. In fact, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires covered entities, which include private and public schools, to “modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” In addition, schools that receive federal financial assistance, including religious schools that may be exempt from Title III, must comply with the requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Further, states including Alabama, Illinois and New Jersey have laws giving students with disabilities the right to bring their service animal to school.

    You may ask the following when deciding whether a student may bring a service animal to school:

    • Is the animal required because of a disability?
    • What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

    According to the Department of Justice, you may not:

    • Ask about the nature or extent of the student’s disability.
    • Require medical documentation.
    • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the animal.
    • Ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task identified.
    • Charge the student more because she brings a service animal to school.
    Practically, service animals are unlikely to create safety or threat problems given their specialized training and desensitization to distractions.

    When can you refuse a request to bring a service animal to school? If the animal is a direct threat, or the presence of the animal would fundamentally alter the program or service provided by the school. Practically, service animals are unlikely to create safety or threat problems given their specialized training and desensitization to distractions. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, the school must offer the student with the disability the opportunity to attend classes without the animal’s presence.

    DoJ takes the position that matters such as allergies and fears are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. Thus, when a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, the Department recommends accommodating both individuals by assigning them, if possible, to different locations.

    Candice Pinares-Baezbased in Florida, is with Fisher Phillips.

    Download a PDF of this article.



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