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Education

Should service dogs be allowed in schools?

Requests to have service dogs in schools are becoming increasingly challenging and complex, says Windsor education lawyer Jessica Koper.

While in an employment context, employers have the right to choose the type of accommodation when notified of an employee’s disability, the situation becomes a little murky in a school setting, says Koper, an associate with Shibley Righton LLP.

“It is much more complex when it’s a request for a psychological or mental disability, such as anxiety, as opposed to an accommodation request for a physical disability, such as a guide dog,” she says. 

“It becomes an issue of balancing the rights of the school board to be able to choose the appropriate accommodation for the child, and the child’s desire to have a certain  accommodation.”

Koper tells AdvocateDaily.com the situation is relatively new for school boards.

“Requests for service dogs are reaching a whole new area,” she says. “A dog will give most people comfort and joy, but it raises questions of where to draw the line when requests for service dogs are made for the general well-being and comfort of the child. Are we going to allow it strictly for serious medical reasons, and what type of evidence is sufficient for that type of accommodation?”

There are obvious concerns around allowing dogs in schools, ranging from allergies to student and staff safety as well as for students who have a fear of dogs, Koper says.

“A school board must take measures to ensure the safety of students,” she says. ”The dog must be properly certified and a school board must be satisfied that the student is able to control and care for the dog. But dogs are not necessarily considered a natural addition to a school environment.”  

There are also issues surrounding the care of the dog while in school and the minimum age of a child who wishes to bring a service dog at school.

The law is clear around the fact that it is up to an employee to make clear to an employer what their needs are, such as a medical condition, she says. It’s the employer's job to find out how best to modify the work or accommodate that person.

But the situation may be different in a school, where students are making the request.

Similar requests have been made in the service industry that generally rule in favour of allowing individuals to bring a service dog in public areas, Koper adds.

“Someone requesting to have a service dog with them in a restaurant is very different from a school because you're just there for a short period of time. There is no case law in this area pertaining to schools.”

It remains to be seen how school boards continue to handle these requests as they become increasingly popular, Koper says.

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