Service animals in education

Student applications to permit various service animals in the educational setting are an increasing phenomenon. This was noted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which looked at student requests to accommodate “comfort service animals” that are said to assist persons with various mental or emotional challenges.  

The federal court for the Eastern District of New York in Cave v. East Meadow Union Free School District, 480 F. Supp. 2d 610 (E.D. N.Y. 2007) (a public domain copy does not appear available), considered a hearing impaired public school student’s request under the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, to to permit his service dog in school. 

Although the dog was a more “traditional” type of service animal than the "comfort service animals" at issue in The Chronicle of Higher Education's article, the East Meadow Union Free School District did not permit the dog in school, noting both concerns for others as well as accommodations already in place for the student. The court agreed with the school and denied student’s request for a preliminary injunction. 

While the settings of higher education and K-12 public school differ, the essential analysis is the same: balance the appropriateness of various accommodations against the need to run the school for the benefit of all.

Unfortunately, the reality is rarely clear-cut.  While schools are likely to have policies expressing compliance with the law, the merits of each case needs individual assessment. And, perhaps, at the end of the day, the best policy is to be sure a student’s request receives genuine individual treatment and that the final decision is made on sound facts and reasons.
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