Service Animals in Schools: A Primer
Editor’s Note: Our author Janet Kester is a school social worker in suburban Chicago and is also completing the School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP) certificate at Loyola. She is working on a 2-year project to build stronger Tier 2 systems, data, and practices (and will be sharing that project’s outcomes soon). Today, she is writing about another area of interest she explored though our SMHAPP certificate: what school social workers need to know about the growing trend of service animals in school settings.
Students and Service Animals in Schools
As this school year began, my administrator asked me to research some information about students and service animals in school. Since I subscribe to many newsletters from various educational, social work and mental health resources I have read some brief articles about this topic of animal assisted therapy during a crisis and emotional support animals but had not come across much information addressing everyday use of service animals by a student in a school setting.
I have read the information the Department of Justice and the American with Disabilities Act has written about and in 2010 for service animals and their requirements (Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals, 2010). Another hat I wear in our building is the 504 Coordinator, so reading additional information from the ADA was really helpful. In regards to service animals, the ADA states:
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 documentations for the dog or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task (Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals, 2010).
As I read more about this topic, it seems as though there are a lot of terms that are used in common language but mean very different things. I am still trying to figure out if I understand what they all mean myself; service animal, animal assisted therapy, emotional support animal, comfort animal, therapy dog. The American with Disabilities Act defines a service animal “as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities”(ADA pamphlet, 2011).
Other examples of a service animals are: Guide dog or Seeing Eye Dog, Hearing or Signal Dog, Psychiatric Service Dog, SSigDog or Sensory Signal Dog, Seizure Response Dog. The American Kennel Club had a wealth of information in my search for different terminology and lingo that is used in the world of animals supporting people. According to the AKC, therapy dogs “are dogs that with their human teammate (usually the dog’s owner) volunteer in settings such as hospitals, assisted living schools, etc. to help other people.” (“Emotional support animals, comfort animals and therapy dogs are not service animals under TItle II and Title III of the ADA,” ADA National Network, 2018).
Another resource I recently came across, Assistance Dogs International, offers ways to find local accredited training facilities or trainers who adhere to this level of accreditation. I find it interesting to read this website and the training the facility trainers, trainees are required to go through to become accredited. Additionally, they cautioned against those that state “they adhere to the same standards” as the ADI (ADI Summary of Standards).
I’m glad that I was able to gather this information for my school and hope that you’ll find it helpful as well. If you’re interested in sharing your experiences with service animals in your schools, join us on SSWNetwork to continue the conversation (and network with over 1,400 school mental health professionals on a variety of topics). Registration is always free and you can join here.