An individual who has been prescribed a service animal has gone through a rigorous application process. Their medical team has determined that it is a necessary intervention to meet their unique developmental and medical needs. It is not a school district's place to say whether or not a child qualifies for a service animal. It would be like them questioning whether or not a child should take the medication a doctor has prescribed or to disregard a child’s diagnosis of Autism or Epilepsy.
If a child's medical team has endorsed the intervention, it should be included in the child’s educational plan, along with the resources/help that child will need to access the supports of their service animal. Other examples of reasonable accommodations school districts recognize include:
- A child with a hearing impairment would need someone to interpret for them.
- A child in a wheelchair that could not propel it on their own would need someone assigned to push the chair.
- A nonverbal child would have assistive technology specialists assigned to them that would help them program their communication devices and teach them how to use them across settings.
Not all children (whether it be their age, medical status, or developmental delays) are capable to fully accessing the supports of their service animal on their own. In cases where a child needs help handling their service animal, the school district should be responsible for helping them do so throughout their school day. If service animals are misused (e.g., wrong commands are given, they are not praised for a job well done, or school staff do not help shape the dog's skills to meet the child's changing needs) their training can be undone and they are no longer able to work efficiently to help their child.
We have ADA law to protect individuals with disabilities. School districts cannot pick and choose which parts of ADA law they want to embrace. My little girl’s challenges qualified her for a service dog at the tender age of 3. Devyn’s doggy has provided her with a level of independence that we could not have imagined beforehand. Not only does her dog help her walk independently, but can also detect seizures ahead of time – just two of the priceless gifts she has been trained to provide. Her school district has told us that if Devyn could handle her own dog, the dog could come to school. Devyn has Angelmans, Autism, and Epilepsy. She is nonverbal and developmentally not able to handle her own dog at this time. We need to let her school district know that telling us that her prescribed intervention is not allowed at school because of her disabilities/diagnoses is discrimination. As we have fought to change her school district’s mind, I have been paying out of pocket to send a handler into school with Devyn. The handler is a person who has been trained to work with service animals. Devyn’s current 1:1 Aide is willing to be trained, but until the dog is included in Devyn’s educational plan, she is not able to do so. Fighting this has been a costly battle, but Devyn needs her dog and I have no choice but to push forward and blaze new paths.
Help Devyn and all the other children facing similar challenges have a voice… Let their story be heard and let it change the way school districts accommodate service animals in an educational setting. Thank you for your support!
Heather Ash Pereira, Devyn’s Mom
- Gates Chili School District
Provide reasonable accomodations for students with service animals
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