OCR Service Animal Resolutions

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This post will provide a summary overview of several recent Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolutions involving students with disabilities  and service animals.

      In  School Admin. Unit #23 (NH), 113 LRP 32108 (OCR 05/22/13), resolved a complaint with a New Hampshire school district regarding a dog that alerted when the student was having a seizure. The school district agreed to train two aides in how to handle the dog. Moreover, the district agreed to revise its service animal policies and procedures, train staff on how to respond to the presence of service animals, and publish the approved policy on the district’s website and in student handbooks.

     In Catawba County (NC) Schs.,61 IDELR 234 (OCR 2013) the school district had refused to allow a student with self injurious and eloping behavior to bring his service dog to school. The dog was trained to help calm the student when he was having a “meltdown” and to retrieve him when he eloped from the school grounds.The principal and superintendent refused to permit the dog to accompany the student to school on the basis that its presence would “fundamentally alter the program and services of the school system.” OCR, however, determined that the dog would not interfere with the student’s IEP goals and would help him cope with his aggression. In its findings OCR noted that the principal had stated “I do not know what the dog does” and the superintendent didn’t know the dog’s function either. Thus, these two administrators had not bothered to learn why the student needed the animal. The district agreed to facilitate the student having the dog at school.

 Jackson County (MI) Intermediate Sch. Dist., 59 IDELR 172 (OCR 2012), a Michigan district decided that the tasks a service animal performed — helping the child with balance and support, retrieving dropped items, and taking off her coat — were already performed by an aide. Thus, there was no need for the student, an 8 year old girl with cerebral palsy, to have the animal with her at school. OCR determined that since one of the purposes of Title II of the ADA was to promote independence of persons with disabilities and, here, the service animal assisted the girl in being more independent, denying her the use of the animal was a violation of 504 and the ADA. To address Section 504 and Title II compliance concerns, the district agreed to develop a plan to fully and effectively integrate the student’s service animal into the school environment and to allow the animal to accompany the child during all school-related activities.

     Finally, in Alpine (CA) Union Elem. Sch. Dist., 112 LRP 49101 (OCR 07/19/12) a California school district agreed to resolve a complaint that it had not allowed a student with a disability to be accompanied by his service animal at end of the school year celebrations. As a result, the student had not had an opportunity to equally participate in those activities. To resolve the complaint, the district voluntarily entered into a agreement which commits to the following: 1) revising its service animal policy and Section 504 policy; 2) providing training on for all district staff regarding Section 504 and service animals; and 3) providing a letter to the student. The district further agreed to submit draft policies regarding service animals and Section 504 to OCR for review. Finally, the district will provide OCR with documentation regarding the district-wide training on service animals and Section 504.