Allow Service Dog to Accompany Handler at Highschool Graduation

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A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. (Defined by Title II and Title III of the ADA).

Abbi is a 4 year old Black Lab in training for a senior at Downingtown High School West. She has been in an extensive amount of training for months and her graduation date from her program is less than a year away. She was selected and evaluated for service dog work a trainer with over 25 years experience of training dogs. After months of training she has been desensitized to a broad spectrum of experiences, sounds, surfaces, people, etc. She has aided her handler tremendously so far, and only continues to improve. 

It was suggested by the student’s healthcare team and the trainer that she start accompanying her handler to school over a month ago. Abbi has attended the school’s Living Arts show with her handler, and had no behavioral issues with the crowds or noise.

The student’s family put in a request for the dog in training to be allowed to come to school with the student for at least part of the day. This would have helped the handler miss less school due to some of the training she has already received, which in turn would have led to more valuable hours of education for her handler. Under DASD’s policies regarding service animals, dogs in training are allowed as long as they are “fully socialized, which means the animal will not, except on rare occasions, bark, yip, growl or make disruptive noises; will have a good temperament and disposition; will not show fear; will not be upset or agitated when it sees another animal; and will not be aggressive,”(Source:$file/NO718-AG%20Service%20Animals%20in%20Schools%206.11.14.pdf).These are all requirements that the dog in training has long since passed. However, after the waiting period had passed and the request been processed, it was too late for DASD to go through with their protocalls in letting the Service Dog in Training accompany her handler. The family requested the dog accompany her handler to walk at graduation at their side. 

At this request, the handler’s family was told that Abbi would be allowed to go- if the handler’s parents kept the dog in the bleachers. A service dog is trained to mitigate the disabilities of one handler. It is impossible for Abbi to task and aid her handler from the bleachers. Interestingly enough, in the same article as mentioned before, under “Instructions to Employees/Students” it is mentioned that the Service animal must not be seperated from it’s handler. “. Do not separate or attempt to separate an owner or handler from his/her service animal,” as a service animal cannot task when seperated from it’s handler. It is also mentioned that students and staff must “ Allow a service animal to accompany the owner or handler at all times in school buildings and district vehicles and on district property, except where service animals are specifically prohibited,” although the service animal in question isn’t accompaning her handler at school, at this event where she has permission she should not be restricted. The same document defines restricted areas as Mechanical Rooms/Custodial Closets, Protective Clothing Required Areas, and Dangerous Areas; the definitions of what is considered a Mechanical Room/Custodial Closet, Protective Clothing Required Area, and Dangerous Area can be found on page 3 of the document. In no way does the space in which Graduation Ceremonies take place fall under any of these catagories.

Under the ADA it is possible for a service animal to be excluded, however, the terms of this are “The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public. Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements. If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded, ( Having a Service Animal at a Graduation Ceremony does not fundamentally alter other students from walking and receiving their diplomas, nor is the animal in question regularly out of control or not housebroken at just months away from her graduation date. It would simply benefit the handler, and the experience would help boost the dog’s training as well. 

Not allowing Abbi to be with her handler would be incredibly stressful for her handler, and incredibly confusing for Abbi, who is trained to solely benefit them.

Thank you for your time.