Can I Bring an Emotional Support Animal to School?

As an emotional support animal owner, it can be confusing to wade through the numerous rules and regulations about where emotional support animals (ESAs) are permitted and where they are not allowed. This article will discuss the policies about bringing emotional support animals onto school sites and college campuses.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides mental or emotional relief to individuals with an emotional disability or mental illness. ESAs typically assist with disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, eating disorders, and insomnia.

Anyone can own an emotional support animal, but to have official status, you must have a legitimate ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional who has verified your need for an assistance animal.

Dogs are the most common emotional support animal, but cats are also quite common. Other animals, such as miniature horses, can also serve as emotional support animals. There are no rules about what species can qualify as an emotional support animal. However, you should not expect to be permitted to bring a large, unusual, or exotic animal to public places, including schools.

Do Emotional Support Animals Count as Service Animals?

It’s essential to keep in mind that a service animal is different from an emotional support animal. Unlike ESAs, service animals are individually trained to help a physically or mentally disabled owner accomplish at least one specific task. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires schools to allow service dogs on campus because they are working animals that help their owner with practical daily activities.

Emotional support animals have not completed the same extensive training as service animals. They may not have completed any training but simply provide comfort and emotional support through their positive relationship with their owner. Schools aren’t obligated to allow emotional support animals or therapy animals on campus because they are not service animals. However, some schools may permit students to bring an emotional support animal under certain circumstances.

Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed in Schools?

Emotional support animals are sometimes allowed on college campuses, but it ultimately depends on the school’s regulations. Having the proper documentation from a licensed mental health professional can help prove to the school authorities that the animal helps alleviate mental or emotional disability symptoms. An ESA letter is essential to ensure that your assistance animal has official status.

If you aren’t sure about a particular school’s policies on emotional support animals, consider researching state and local laws or contacting the school’s office. This should clarify whether your companion animal will be welcome on campus.

Emotional Support Animals in Public Schools (K-12)

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), students attending K-12 public schools are permitted to have an individually trained and fully certified service animal in school if the animal facilitates the student’s ability to access education. Beyond this legal requirement, it’s up to each school district to determine whether they will allow any other assistance animals in their schools. Since emotional support animals are not service animals, most school districts do not allow them on campus.

For example, the Chicago Public Schools website states, “Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are NOT service animals under the ADA and are not allowed in any CPS school, on Board property or at Board events. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are also not considered service animals.”

Therefore, it’s essential to check with your local school district about their regulations on emotional support animals and therapy animals. Most public schools don’t permit companion animals on campus. However, it’s still worth inquiring as some may allow exceptions to their policies in extraordinary circumstances and on a case-by-case basis.

Private schools and schools with a significant proportion of special needs students may have different rules. Either way, having an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional will underline how important your emotional support animal is to your mental health.

Emotional Support Animals on College Campuses

In some cases, college students may be able to bring emotional support animals to campus with them. However, colleges are likely to have strict rules about what kinds of animals are allowed and in what circumstances.

Can You Have an Emotional Support Animal in a Dorm?

To have an emotional support animal in your dorm, you must acquire the proper documentation. A 2013 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) memorandum states that housing providers may ask people to demonstrate evidence from a qualified mental health professional that the assistance animal provides emotional support to alleviate symptoms of an emotional disability.

If you live off-campus, you should be allowed to live with your emotional support animal according to the terms of the federal Fair Housing Act. The FHA specifies that even if a residence doesn’t usually allow pets, the landlord or housing provider must make reasonable allowances for tenants with mental health conditions. The resident must have a legitimate ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional proving they have an emotional or mental disability. Your landlord should also waive the pet deposit and any fees for your emotional support animal.

Can You Have an Emotional Support Animal in a Lecture Hall?

If you are permitted to bring your companion animal to school, they will likely be restricted to your dorm rather than any common areas, classrooms, or lecture halls. While the Fair Housing Act protects your right to have an assistance animal in your living space (on or off campus), this doesn’t mean you can take your emotional support animal to other buildings on campus. You may request special permission to take your emotional support animal to class or other school facilities, but the university has no obligation to agree to your request and will probably deny it.

Unlike psychiatric service dogs and other service animals, emotional support animals have no legal right to access classrooms or lecture halls. As with public schools, it’s best to contact your college or university and inquire about their emotional support animal rules and policies.

Conclusion: Emotional Support Animals in Schools and on Campus

Thanks to federal laws like the Fair Housing Act prohibiting housing discrimination, emotional support animals are typically permitted in college dormitories and off-campus housing. As housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for residents with mental health conditions or emotional disabilities. However, you will almost certainly have to verify your need for an assistance animal with a valid ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional and potentially provide additional documentation about your mental or emotional disabilities to the school administration.

Although they may be considered comfort or assistance animals, emotional support animals are not service animals. Therefore, schools and universities are not required to allow emotional support animals inside classrooms, and most will only allow service dogs inside non-residential school buildings.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your school won’t consider making reasonable accommodations or work around your needs. You may be able to compromise with them, although this is entirely up to the educational institution.

To find out if your local school district or college campus allows emotional support animals, contact the school directly to discuss their emotional support animal policies. With the proper documentation and an official ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional, you will have a stronger case about how your emotional support dog or cat is essential to your daily life, including your time in educational settings.

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