Arlene is on the SCENE

Service Animals in the Classroom

Posted on: September 19, 2012

Service dog, “Chili”

I just saw an article about a student in Texas who was told she would no longer be allowed to bring her service animal to school.  While the Americans With Disabilities Act requires service animals to be allowed into public and governmental facilities, new regulations in March 2011 clarified the definition of “service animal.”

Well, attempted to clarify the definition. I would say the definition is still a bit vague.

The new regulations state that “dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support” are not service animals under the ADA; however, the regulations also give an example of a service animal who “calms a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack.” Hmm. Sounds like “comfort and emotional support” might indeed be part of a service animal’s function.

In the Texas case, Chili helps the student stay calm during anxiety-provoking situations, anxiety that is caused by her disability.  My confusion lies in the Justice Department’s dismissal of providing “comfort” as a legitimate task of service animals. For kids living with disabilities such as autism, anxiety disorder, or mood disorder, comfort and emotional support is precisely the service they need to function in the classroom. Would the school rather employ a para-educator full-time to provide this support?

Jasmine

The power of animals is vast. My own former pup, Jasmine, greatest dog ever (I’m covering the eyes of my own two mutts lounging by my desk) was amazing in the classroom. She helped during therapeutic groups and in individual sessions with children who needed to work on attachment, empathy, and self-regulation.

Maybe the Department of Justice needs to clarify a bit more. If someone has a disability affecting their emotional and/or mental state, and the animal helps to address that need, sounds like a service animal to me.

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2 Responses to "Service Animals in the Classroom"

I agree completely! Sounds like another instance where invisible disabilities are not given the same treatment as visibilble challenges. If a child cannot self regulate, they cannot learn. And they often take the entire class with them when them struggle with anxiety or melt downs. I really hope this gets a second look. Animals are amazing support companions!

Though I do think, as a teacher, they need to pass a behavior screening so they are safe and calm with all children at school. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this story! 🙂

And I agree about addressing the issue of the service animal’s impact on the rest of the class. When I did use my dog in the classroom, there were many issues to address–allergies, fears, expectations, etc.–before bringing her in. Well worth it though! When I see former students, their favorite memory is often spending time with Jasmine.

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