The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued new guidance yesterday regarding the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to service animals. The new guidance underscores the DOJ’s 2010 revisions to the ADA regarding which animals qualify as service animals and permissible lines of inquiry about tasks the service animal performs.

The DOJ’s new guidance also includes new information to clarify some of the questions that educational institutions have raised about the presence of service animals on campus. The guidance discusses the distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals, and explains that comfort animals are not automatically excluded from the definition of service animals. The DOJ also addresses service animals in training, requirements regarding the training and certification of service animals, and the use of identification tags.

Some of the discussion in the guidance is targeted specifically at educational institutions. For example, the guidance addresses instances where students with allergies may have needs that compete with the equal access requirements of the ADA. The guidance also discusses the presence of service animals in self-service food lines and in communal food preparation areas in residence halls. Of note, the guidance is clear that mandatory registration of service animals is impermissible under the ADA but colleges and universities may have in place voluntary registration programs in certain circumstances.

The DOJ’s new guidance illustrates the increasing complexities that exist with regard to the presence of service and assistance animals on campus. In addition to the DOJ, other federal agencies and state and local governments have in place rules that apply to service and assistance animals on campus. Educational institutions are advised to review existing policies and requirements related to service animals on campus to ensure continued compliance with the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and state and local laws.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Higher Education Group regularly counsel clients on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and have experience drafting service animal policies and providing related training. Ballard’s Higher Education group also routinely advises educational institutions on compliance with Title IX, the Clery Act, Title VI, Section 504, and the Age Discrimination Act. Please contact Olabisi “Bisi” Okubadejo at 410.528.5532 or with any questions.

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