Grooming Dogs for the Educational Setting: The “IDEIA” Behind Service Dogs in the Public Schools

Service dogs traditionally have been used to guide people with visual impairments, acting as their “eyes” and helping them to independently perform daily functions. However, service dogs are also valuable for people with other types of disabilities, including hearing impairments, autism spectrum disorder, seizure disorders, and physical handicaps. For students with disabilities, service dogs can help them become more independent, improve their focus, help them socialize, and ensure their safety. Despite the positive impact service dogs have on students with disabilities, many public primary and secondary schools across the country have refused to allow a service dog to accompany a student at school. School districts argue that because a student with a disability is already receiving special services and accommodations pursuant to his or her individualized education program (“IEP”), the service dog is unnecessary for the student to receive an “appropriate” education. Although some students with disabilities have sought relief through administrative hearings and the court system to address this issue, there is no clear test for schools to follow to determine whether a service dog is necessary for a student to receive an “appropriate” education.

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