My oldest daughter is a junior at a major public university 3,000 miles from home. Having a chronic, life-threatening disease, she works hard to manage her health, and part of that involves having her service dog at school. Her service dog is well-trained, has a very specific job and goes everywhere with her, day and night.
From prior experience, we have learned that a little preliminary communication goes a long way, so at the beginning of every school semester my daughter introduces herself and her service dog to each professor and TA. She explains what he does for her and answers any questions that they might have. It’s definitely not required, but that conversation typically helps create an understanding that heads off issues before they can arise.
However, this semester the preliminary meet and greet was not enough.
Halfway through the first lab for one class, my daughter was singled out by her professor, who said her service dog had to be out of the arena where lab was happening. She said their “presence was a liability to the entire class.” My daughter was shocked. How would she participate if she can’t be in the lab area? Visibly upset, she left, thinking there must have been a misunderstanding. But the next day the TA pointed her out in class, saying loudly, “Oh, and you can’t bring your dog to lab.”
“But he is a service dog, I need to have my service dog at school,” my daughter answered.
The TA stood firm replying, “Can’t he just stay home?”
My daughter answered, “Do you know that’s against the law? He’s a service dog for a medical reason. He goes everywhere with me. He’s been in labs before.” The TA rolled her eyes. My daughter continued, “Will this impact my grade?”
“I don’t know,” the TA responded.
My daughter immediately left and went over to Disability Services, where her advisor confirmed that what happened was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that it would not impact her grade, and that they would reach out to the professor to take care of it.
Within an hour Disability Services had scheduled a meeting between my daughter and her professor to make sure that proper accommodations were made and understood. She was assured that her service dog would be able to attend class and that they would work out the labs that she had missed. Disability Services also recommended my daughter file a formal complaint, because it’s important to have this on record in case there are issues later.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) these are some of the laws regarding a service dog at school:
- A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
- State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.
- When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
- A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.
Here is a complete outline of ADA laws regarding a service dog at school. Schools may have additional policies or procedures within these guidelines or may advise that the student make a request for accommodation. These accommodations allow my daughter to take tests in a testing center, making it easier for her service dog and managing her health. They also put her “in the system” so she is known and has an advocate.
Much progress has been made in terms of disability accommodations over the last 10 years, but things don’t always work the way they should. It’s important that your son or daughter know that there are people in the world that just don’t get it, and they will run into them from time to time. By being versed in their rights and proper channels of recourse, your student will be prepared to resolve any situation that comes up with having their service dog at school. In my daughter’s case, she knew how to advocate for herself and was familiar with her Disability Services advisor, who was able to get things headed in the right direction within the hour.
Where we bought our service dog vests:
I’ve had numerous questions about where we bought our service dog vests. Easy answer? Amazon! I’ll write more about vests and training, but here’s a link to the red service dog vest and the backpack saddlebag service dog vest. And here is a link to the doggles – dog goggles!