I wanted to take some time to discuss the sudden explosion of students wanting to bring Service Animals in Training on campus and with them to class. This is an issue that seems to be a problem for many of you so I was just going to give you my thoughts on the subject and let you know what we are doing here at Texas Tech that might be helpful to you in your situations.
First, I think the key to handling this situation is for you to have a clear, written policy on how your institution will address Service Animals in Training. That policy needs to be specific about what your requirements are for students, as well as who you recognize as an “approved trainer” that must be with the dog at all times.
Let’s start by reviewing the language in the regulations published on ADA.gov say in terms of defining these animals. In the document published by OCR, (https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html ) it clearly states two key points you need to emphasize in your policy, as well as when you meet with the student: 1, Students absolutely have the right to train the service animal themselves; 2 HOWEVER, the ADA does NOT recognize a service animals in training and thus until the training is complete the service animal in training does not have the same protection and privileges as a fully trained service animal.
After that part of the conversation with the student, you then want to acknowledge that the State of Texas does recognize Service Animals in Training to have access to the same areas as trained service animals as long as they are accompanied by an approved trainer. At that point is when you want to ask the student to provide you with documentation of their certification from an approved organization recognized by the state who’s mission is training service animals for people with disabilities. This is where you want to make sure that your published, written policy states the same thing. We have recently updated our policy at Texas Tech to address what we recognize as an approved trainer organization.
I know many of you are frustrated that the State of Texas does not give any clarification on exactly what an approved trainer is, but that can also work to your advantage because this allows you to set that standard yourself. Since the state provides no guidelines for this, and until they do so, it is up to each individual campus to determine what you will recognize as an “approved trainer”. For our policy, we state that we recognize an approved trainer as “an individual who has been certified by an organization who’s primary mission is to train service animals for people with disabilities”. So, when a student wants to bring a service animal in training on campus, we ask them to provide us with contact information for the organization who certified them, as well as a copy of their individual certification. We then apply the old standard that use to be on the old DARS website that stated the organization should be one that “is generally recognized in the state of Texas as operating for the purpose of training service animals for people with disabilities”. That language was removed when DARS was merged with the Texas Workforce Commission, but we still use that as a guide since it still gives you some flexibility.
Now I understand that many of you will have concerns about the legal challenge of this type of policy. We worked with our general counsel, as well as getting feedback from both current and former investigators with OCR and they all concluded that as long as your policy is reasonable and not overly burdensome, then it would be hard for it to be challenged legally because there is no standard set by the state for the challenge to be held to. In other words, until the state sets some kind of standards or guidelines, there is nothing to challenge other than a policy being excessively burdensome. Excessively burdensome would be something more like requiring them to have a certain number of years of experience, or requiring them to have references from clients, etc. Then the main focus after that is to ensure that you are applying and enforcing your policy consistently! Paul Grossman and Jim Long, both long time OCR attorney’s, both have stated repeatedly that the most important thing you can do with ANY policy is to enforce it consistently with all students.
So, here is a summary of what we are doing and what I would recommend as at least a starting point for each of you if you have not already set a policy in place:
- Write a formal policy for Service Animals in Training and get it up on your website.
- Conduct a meeting with each student wanting to bring a service animal in training on campus.
- Review the published ADA language:
- Allows for the person to train the dog themselves
- Does not recognize service animals in training as a protected accommodation
- Review the State of Texas statute that does allow for service animals in training to access the same areas as Service Animals as long as they are accompanied by an approved trainer
- Review your policy on who is recognized as an approved trainer.
- Require the student to submit verification of their certification as an approved trainer, or proof one will be with them at all times on campus.
- Remind them that Service Animals in training are under the exact same standards as a fully trained service animal.
- Remind them that Service Animals in training must be identified by a vest or tag indicating they are in training.
Hopefully with these things in place, it will deter the problem students from trying to use the state law against you, especially when they know you will be asking for verification of their certification or proof that an approved trainer will be with them at all times. Again, this is just what we are doing now, so it may or may not work for everyone, but at least maybe it will give you some ideas and guidance as you face this problem on your campus. I will be glad to visit with anyone over the phone as well if that is easier on how they might approach it on their campuses.
Larry K. Phillippe, Ed.D., P.A.
Managing Director, Student Disability Services/Campus ADA Coordinator
Office of the Provost, Texas Tech University
Adjunct Instructor, Special Education
(P) 806 742-2405 (F) 806 742-4837
Past President – AHEAD in Texas