May 24, 2004

Service Dogs and Schools

Victor sent me this link - a newspaper article from my hometown Springfield News-Leader about a young woman with chronic hip displasia who is not allowed to bring her specially trained service dog to school.

The girl's mother believes that the school's refusal to accommodate Karen's condition is in violation with the Americans With Disabilities Act. I tend to agree. Here's why.

1) Service dogs are not disallowed in this school. Animals are not disallowed in this school. The article makes both of these points.

2) Although the article does not mentioned how the dog, Zeus, was obtained, a sidebar contains an interview with a professional service dog trainer. I'm going to go ahead and make the leap that Zeus is appropriately trained and that the organization that oversaw his training found him to be a good match to aid the young lady's condition.

3) The law. I'll just quote the section of the article.
Under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, any public entity — which includes schools — is guilty of discrimination if it does not make reasonable accommodations for the needs of the disabled.

The law's provisions include permitting a person to be accommodated by an assistance animal, which is defined as "any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items."

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a school would be in violation if it had a blanket policy restricting students from using necessary methods to aid with their disability, said Cecilia Callahan, director of advocacy for Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services, a watchdog group based in Jefferson City.

Klatt said the school does not have a policy prohibiting animals from being brought onto district property.

If no such policy exists, an accommodation plan must be constructed, ensuring that students with disabilities have the same access to a quality education as other students, Callahan said.

Another law that may apply is the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination by a school district because a student is disabled. According to the federal act, disabled students are defined as those who have a "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, learning, hearing, caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, speaking and breathing."

Michael Jungers, an assistant dean of students at Southwest Missouri State University, oversees the university's office for disability services. He said if a case like Karen's arose at the university level, officials would confer with the physician to determine whether a student was qualified to use a service animal.

If school officials agreed such an animal was needed, it would be permitted to be used in all aspects of university life, Jungers said.

"The law would pretty much apply at the elementary and secondary levels," he said.
Karen's case isn't very clear cut. I'm fairly sure that if she were visually impaired, this would be a non-issue. The school's response seems knee-jerk - as if the dog would disrupt school, but I doubt that would be the case for more than a day.

One last thing - one of my favorite childhood books was about a boy who was injured with a firecracker and lost his sight. Follow My Leader - worth checking out.


Posted by hln at May 24, 2004 12:29 PM | General News | TrackBack

BTW, doesn't even need to be a "service" dog per se. "Therapy" dogs have all the same rights.

Posted by: Courtney at May 24, 2004 10:01 PM

Even if the ADA didn't exist, I'd still be in favor of letting her use the service dog. All the ones I've met are VERY well-trained and well-behaved. Heck, they're more professional than some of my co-workers :-)

Posted by: Harvey at May 25, 2004 08:51 AM