The warmth and compassion an emotional support animal can bring to those who need it is something that cannot be replaced. That’s why many parents welcome emotional support animals into their children’s lives, and part of the reason that emotional support animals have become more common.
Many organizations are struggling with the complexities that emotional support animals bring with them, especially schools. No matter your child’s age, there are some important things to understand about the rules surrounding ESAs in schools. Here’s what you need to know.
Is An ESA A Therapy Dog?
One important distinction that must be made is the difference between a service animal and an ESA, since this distinction can have an impact on where the animal is allowed to go.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows those with service animals, which are animals (usually dogs) specially trained to assist those with disabilities, to go places other animals cannot. Restaurants, museums, schools, and other businesses have to allow a service animal in under the provisions of the ADA.
An emotional support animal, on the other hand, is meant to provide companionship and emotional support that can help with conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, these animals are not trained to perform certain tasks to assist those with disabilities, so they’re not treated the same as service animals under federal law.
This distinction doesn’t absolutely mean that an ESA won’t be allowed to go to school, but it’s not something schools are required to do by law, so it’s seldom allowed. If you have a child in elementary, middle, or high school, you will need to check with your school district to understand what is allowed and what isn’t. It varies by location.
Concerns For Other Children
One of the biggest obstacles faced by taking an ESA to a school is the other people around. Any ESA that is taken into a school environment must not be a disruption. Also, some students may be allergic to certain animals, such as dogs, and introducing the animal (and their dander) into a classroom can be a cause for concern.
In the case of a service animal, both the child with the disability who needs an animal and the child with allergies can be accommodated. This is due to the ADA. But in the case of an ESA, there’s no legal requirement for the school to make an accommodation for an ESA.
Can You Take An ESA To College?
College is a bit different when it comes to ESAs than other school options, since many colleges require you to live away from home – and, presumably, from your emotional support animal, too.
Several universities and colleges are ESA-friendly. And even though an ESA does not have the same rights under the law as a service animal, you can still explore the potential of bringing an ESA with you when you’re away from home at school.
A few well-known higher learning institutions that have an animal-friendly policy for their campuses include:
- University of Illinois
Do your research to find out if a college you want to attend has a policy on ESAs.
Documentation Needed For Emotional Support Animals In Schools
If you do plan to attend a school with an ESA-friendly policy, then no doubt you’ll be asked for the appropriate paperwork. For traveling and living with your ESA, you should have a few pieces of documentation ready and waiting in case it’s needed.
In order for your animal to be considered an ESA, you need a letter on a letterhead from a licensed mental health provider. This ESA letter must include:
- A letter or prescription less than one year old and signed with the proper licensing information of the provider
- Information on why the individual needs an ESA (a disorder that can be found in the DSM IV or V)
- Acknowledgment that the person with the ESA has been evaluated by the professional signing the letter
Having the right documentation can help you to avoid hassle when securing housing and traveling – and in helping make a case to a school that having your ESA with you is imperative to your mental health and wellness.
ESAs have a big role to play in the lives of so many, but taking them everywhere you go can present a real challenge. Make sure to have your ESA letter so that if you discover an ESA is allowed at school, you can ensure you aren’t separated from your companion.