Third Circuit Says Schools Must Accommodate Service Animals | KingSpry

Don’t Turn Buddy the Dog Away – Recent Third Circuit Case Reminds Schools of Obligations to Accommodate Service Animals

Photo of Timothy E. Gilsbach

Posted on September 25th, 2018
by Timothy E. Gilsbach

In the case of Berardelli v. Allied Services Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, No. 17-1469 (3d Cir., Aug. 14, 2018), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reminded school entities of their obligations to accommodate service animals and that there is a very limited number of reasons why a school can say no to such requests.

The case involved a student’s service dog named Buddy, who, according to the Court, “not only could alert during [student’s] seizures, but also could predict and alert to them minutes before they even began.” 

The student’s school refused to allow Buddy to come to school with the student, explaining at first that Buddy would be too much of a distraction in the school setting and then later explaining that another student in the school was allergic to dogs.

After a prolonged debate between the student’s parents and the school, the school agreed to allow Buddy to come to school, but with the condition that he wears a special therapeutic shirt to decrease allergens. However, the shirt made Buddy overheated; causing him to pant and he failed to alert others of student’s seizures.

Parents sued the school claiming the school failed to properly accommodate student’s request to have a service animal.    

The Court explained that the regulations related to the use of service animals provides several specific exceptions that would allow a public entity, in the case a school, to prohibit an animal, and explains that “where no exception applies, the accommodation of such individual’s use of service animals is per se reasonable” and, as a result, must be permitted.

The Court further notes that the exceptions are: (1) if the service animal would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the program, (2) the service animal would pose a “direct threat” to the health or safety of other, or (3) if the service animal is either “out of control” or “not housebroken.” 

Bottom Line for Schools

The Berardell case makes clear that school entities should approve requests for a service animal, unless it falls within in one of exceptions clearly provided for by regulations.

If your school has a question about student requests for service animals at school, please contact your legal counsel or one of the attorneys at KingSpry.

 

This School Law Bullet is a publication of the KingSpry Education Law Practice Group. John E. Freund is our editor. It is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.