Educational Institutions

There are multiple laws that protect the right of guide dog handlers to be accompanied by their dogs in educational institutions such as preschools, Primary schools, secondary schools, and post-secondary education like colleges and universities. Sometimes more than one law applies in a given situation, so it is important to first start by applying the law that places the fewest burdens on the guide dog handler.

The ADA and Educational Institutions

Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act protect the right of a person with a disability to be accompanied by a service animal in public places, including educational institutions. Check out our Public Access page for more information about this topic. Title II of the ADA covers state and local governmental entities including public colleges and universities, and Title III covers private institutions. If a person is accompanied by a service animal in a part of an educational institution that is open to the public and has a disability that is not obvious or readily apparent, staff may ask only two questions: 1) is the animal required because of a disability; and 2) what work or task has the animal been trained to perform? If it is obvious what task the dog is performing, like guiding a blind person, the questions should not be asked. Entities covered by the ADA cannot ask about the nature of the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Colleges and universities cannot require students to register their service animal with a disability services office although a student may do so voluntarily. Schools also may not require students to provide vaccination or vet records unless there is some indication that the animal has a health issue. Students cannot be required to obtain liability insurance for their animal.

Guide dogs are service animals because they help people who are blind or have very low vision avoid obstacles and travel from place to place safely and independently. A student working with a guide dog is allowed to be accompanied by their dog in any area the public or students are allowed to go within an educational institution, such as classrooms, cafeterias, dormitories, and other areas of a school building or campus. It is important to remember that this right of access is not limited to students. A person attending an activity open to the public such as a sporting event or graduation at an educational institution is allowed to be accompanied by their guide dog. Likewise, a parent who works with a guide dog is allowed to be accompanied by their dog when participating in a meeting, program, or event at their child’s school. These examples are not exhaustive, but they were chosen to provide a sense of how broad the protections are under the ADA for people working with guide dogs and other service animals in educational institutions.

Housing in Educational Institutions

Educational institutions that provide housing such as dormitories are covered by both the ADA and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA is a federal law that makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in housing. Check out our housing page for more information about the rights of guide dog handlers in housing. The Fair Housing Act protects the rights of people with disabilities working with service animals as well as people with disabilities who need emotional support animals. Thus, there may be situations where an animal that is not a dog and/or whose sole purpose is to provide emotional support is allowed in a dorm but not in the classroom. Given the growing concerns about “fake service animals” in various settings, we recommend that guide dog handlers who encounter other animals in the educational context concern themselves with the behavior of the animals rather than whether it is a “fake” service animal. Read A Seeing Eye Perspective for more about our position on this issue.

Extra Protections for Children with Disabilities

In addition to the ADA, children with disabilities are protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which gives children with disabilities the right to a “free appropriate public education” and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which covers entities that receive federal funding. A child with a disability may have an individualized education program(EIP) indicating that a service animal is necessary for them to receive a “free appropriate public education.” However, even if it does not, the child still has the right to have their service animal with them at school because they are protected by the ADA.

What to do when more than one law applies

Since multiple laws apply to people working with service animals in educational institutions, it is best for the institution to start by applying the law with the least restrictive standard when trying to determine what they are allowed to ask someone with a service animal. For example, both the ADA and FHA apply to housing operated by educational institutions. Because guide dogs are service animals covered by the ADA, a guide dog handler does not technically have to ask for permission to live in the dorm with their dog as a reasonable accommodation like they would normally have to do if they were moving into an apartment not associated with the institution. However, the handler might want to seriously consider providing the school with advanced notice that they will be bringing their guide dog as a courtesy. The handler will likely be living in close quarters with people who have varying levels of tolerance for dogs and may have allergies or other disabilities. This in no way changes the guide dog handler’s rights under the ADA or excuses violation of those rights, but the guide dog team’s experience may be smoother and more pleasant if the school is not surprised and has time to make arrangements to meet the needs of the guide dog handler and other students.

Protecting Your Rights

An individual who believes they have experienced discrimination by an educational institution because of their service animal can contact the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights at 1-800-421-3481 if it is covered by Title II. Complaints of discrimination against institutions covered by Title III can be filed with the Department of Justice online or by phone at 800-514-0301. An individual who believes  they have experienced discrimination in housing in an educational institution can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).