Students with disabilities have the right to bring their service dogs not only to school with them, but also on the school bus. Our newest passengers pose few problems once they are on the bus, but it is important to have procedures in place prior to transporting these four-legged companions.
There are several key aspects to think about as you prepare or modify your transportation policy to include transporting service animals. These areas include definitions, laws, possible roles, school bus logistics, emergencies and evacuations and behavior issues.
Defining the situation
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 28 CFR Part 36, a service animal is “…any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”
According to the ADA, a “disability” is a mental or physical condition that substantially limits a major life activity. Examples of major life activities include caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. Obviously, many of these activities become critical to transportation on a school bus.
Service animals are a type of assistance animal that helps children with disabilities in various ways. The types of assistance animals comprise service, therapy, companion and social/therapy animals. Service animals are those trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handler. They can assist the person with mobility, hearing and vision difficulties or deficits. They also can identify the onset of seizure and solicit an alert/response action.
The most predominant animal serving in this category is the dog. Service animals are not considered “pets,” and federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places.
Therapy animals are not legally defined by federal law. Their role is to provide people with contact to animals but is not limited to those with disabilities. Therapy animals often visit patients in hospitals or nursing homes to provide physical and emotional contact and maintain well-being. Dogs and cats usually dominate this category.
Companion and social/therapy animals are also not legally defined terms but are accepted as another name for pet. Often, they are animals that could not complete service animal training due to health, disposition, trainability or other factors and are made available as pets for people who have disabilities.