Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended procedures for allowing service animals in school.
Procedures for Allowing Service Animals in School
Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), service animals are welcome in all public places. However, the Ontario Human Rights Code ruled in 2017 that schools are not places that all members of the public have access to. This ruling means that students with service animals cannot automatically bring their animals to school with them. Instead, they must ask their school boards if they can bring the animal. School boards then make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
The Committee reports that some schools or school boards do not allow students to bring trained service animals to school. While some school boards have policies allowing students to request this accommodation, other school boards do not. However, students should be allowed to bring service animals that have received training from an accredited organization. Alternatively, other service animals may help students with disability-related tasks, but may not have accredited training. Nonetheless, these students should have the chance to provide proof of the animal’s training to the school board. As a result, school boards should recognize the training of all service animals, and have policies to receive and respond to students’ needs for this accommodation.
Procedures for Responding to Requests for Service Animals in School
Therefore, the Committee recommends that all school boards should have fast and fair procedures for responding to students’ requests to bring service animals to school. Moreover, when school boards make decisions about allowing service animals, their decisions should concur with the:
- Duty to accommodate, under the Ontario Human Rights Code
- Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policies on:
- The Duty to Accommodate Persons with Disabilities
- Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities
Furthermore, school boards should also learn about the ways each service animal supports their handler outside of school. This knowledge should help school board members understand how the service animal can benefit the student in the school setting. For example, a service animal’s ability to calm a student at home or in their community may be equally helpful in school.
Resolving Concerns about Allowing Service Animals in School
If a school board has specific concerns about allowing an animal, the school board can research how other schools have welcomed students’ service animals, and replicate these best practices. Moreover, the Ministry of Education should collect data about school boards that currently allow service animals in schools. This collection will make it easier for other school boards to contact and learn from colleagues. In addition, the school board should quickly tell the student, or the student’s family, exactly what their concerns are. The school board and the student can then discuss ways to resolve the concerns.
For instance, school board members may think that the accommodation of a service animal will conflict with the human rights of others, such as peers or staff. For example, another student or staff member in the class or school may have an allergy to dogs. In these cases, the school board should work with the student and staff member with competing rights to accommodation, and find ways to meet both parties’ needs. However, the school board should not use this conflict as a reason not to welcome the service animal, without fully investigating the situation.
Planning for Success
Furthermore, school boards, students, their families, and training organizations should jointly plan how to successfully integrate the animal in school. For instance, training organizations may make presentations to staff and peers about how to interact with service animals in school. Likewise, providing information about service animals to peers’ families can help more members of the school community understand the need for the accommodation.
Finally, if a school board plans to refuse a service animal, they should first allow a trial or test period. After this period, the school board can then refuse to allow the student to bring their service animal to school. However, the school board should have a process in place to resolve disputes over refusals. Similarly, this process can also resolve any disputes about problems with plans to welcome the service animal. The process may include mediation.