A Capehart Scatchard Blog

What You Need to Know About Service Animals in Schools – Part 1

By on March 20, 2017 in Students with 0 Comments

By: Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq.
Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

More often than not, school administrators face questions relating to requests for service animals to accompany students in school. What is a service animal? Who is allowed to bring a service animal to school? What restrictions may a school impose on the use of a service animal? In this two part series, we will explore these and other issues surrounding the use of service animals in schools.

New Jersey school districts must permit access to service animals that accompany students with disabilities. N.J.S.A. 18A:46-13.2 and 13.3 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) allow service animals on school grounds and in school buildings – including classrooms and on school buses.

The ADA specifically defines a service animal as “a dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”  28 C.F.R. 35.104. Thus, other types of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. Importantly, in order to qualify as a service animal under the ADA, the animal must perform work or tasks that are directly related to the individual’s disability. Such work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, and alerting individuals to the presence of allergens. However, emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition. Therefore, household pets and therapy dogs do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

In responding to requests for a service animal to accompany a student, school districts are limited in the scope of their inquiries when determining whether the animal qualifies. Pursuant to 28 C.F.R. 35.136(f), if it is not readily apparent that the animal qualifies as a service animal, school districts can only make two inquiries, which are the following:

  1. Is the use of the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

Although these two inquiries are permissible, school districts cannot inquire about the nature or extent of a person’s disability. In addition, a school district cannot require supporting documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal.

Notwithstanding the above, N.J.S.A. 18A:46-13.3 allows school officials in New Jersey to require a certification from a veterinarian that the service animal is properly vaccinated and does not have a contagious disease that may harm students or staff.  School officials can also require documentation that any animal license required by the municipality in which the student resides has been obtained for the service animal (i.e. animal license).

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series in which we will discuss the circumstances in which a service animal can be excluded from school, whether schools are responsible for the handling, care, and supervision of the animal, as well as liability insurance.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Lauren E. Tedesco-Dallas, Esq. is a shareholder with the firm and concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, OPMA, and teaching staff tenure matters under TEACHNJ and ACHIEVENJ.

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