Highland Canine Training, LLC has provided service dogs to many people over its years in business. We’ve trained Autism Assistance dogs, Seizure Alert dogs, Mobility and Stability dogs, and Hearing dogs to name a few. We have provided many service dogs to children throughout the years and one common questions that always arises is “Can my child’s service dog go to his/her school and what is the process to make that happen?”
Can a service dog go to school?
This is a great question! Because this may be new to the families and to the schools, we thought we’d take a moment and provide some information that we have found useful to help parents navigate through that process.
The simple answer to this question is yes! 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.
So you ask, if the school is not required to take care or handle the service dog, another question we hear quite often from the parents or guardian is “Can my child handle the dog while he or she is in school?”
Who handles the service dog at school?
The answer to that question is, it depends. If the child is mature enough and capable of handling the dog alone (i.e. can provide correction if needed, can handle the dog while taking potty breaks outside, recess, etc.) then the child can be the primary handler of the service dog with no other person needed to handle the dog. Keep in mind that some service dogs, depending on the breed, can weigh up to and over 100lbs, so the child must have the physical strength to handle to dog.
If the child is incapable of handling the service dog themselves, there are a couple of different options that can be looked at. One of the best advice we can give though, is that you should be coordinating with the school well in advance so that you can both understand all the issues and logistics and to see what is the best option for your child.
What other options are there?
One of these options is that the parents can provide a handler that could go to the school with their child. This is at the expense of the family. Some parents choose this route and will often have the service dog and their handler go to the school on a part time basis to give their child, the handler and the school some time to acclimate to this new process. More time can be added as all three become more comfortable with this set up.
Another option that we’ve found to be very successful is that the school allows the child’s teacher, teaching assistant, etc. to handle the service dog while at school. This is a great compromise if the school is willing to help provide this service. This may initially seem like more work from the school’s perspective, but what we’ve found is that having a service dog with the child during the day typically reduces the possible disruptions that may arise and the teacher/teacher’s aide finds it very easy to handle the dog with not a lot of extra work on their part. So it’s win/win!
No matter what option, it is extremely important that whomever will be handling the service dog receives comprehensive training in order to ensure that both the service dog and the handler are successful. No matter where you receive your service dog from, we recommend that you ensure that the company or non-profit that is providing your service dog is able and willing to provide this training.
Service Dogs, School, and the Federal Law
Another question that arises from time to time from the school is “What do I do if I have another student who is allergic to dogs?” The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. 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, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
Again, it’s very clear on the law on this, but early and frequent communication between the school and the family is critically important to ensure success. Some schools choose to communicate to other families to keep them informed and help allay any fears that they may have. There is no requirement to do this though.
Hopefully this post helps clear up some questions on bringing service dogs into the school environment. We’ve had great success in providing the training needed to have a positive transition into the school system and we hope you do to!