OSBA’s legal division recently received a question from a member who asked whether a board could adopt a policy requiring proof of vaccinations for service animals accompanying students in the district’s buildings.  The board’s purpose in asking for such proof was to confirm that the animal was not a health risk to students in the building.

A federal court case earlier this year examined the issue in-depth.  In Alboniga v. School Board of Broward County, Florida, Monica Alboniga asserted the school district board’s policy on service animals was a violation of Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (“Title II”).  The policy required proof of liability insurance for the animal, as well as proof of certain vaccinations that were listed in the policy.  The vaccinations required by board policy exceeded those for animals permitted in schools set by Florida statute. The court agreed with Alboniga, granting her summary judgment motion.   

Title II prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and requires public entities, including school districts, to make reasonable accommodations for those individuals.  The US Department of Justice (USDOJ) has enacted regulations to implement Title II.  One of those regulations, 28 C.F.R. § 35.136(h), states:

A public entity shall not ask or require an individual with a disability to pay a surcharge, even if people accompanied by pets are required to pay fees, or to comply with other requirements generally not applicable to people without pets. If a public entity normally charges individuals for the damage they cause, an individual with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.   

Because Florida law required neither liability insurance for service animals nor all of the vaccinations required by the board policy, the district court found these board requirements to be impermissible surcharges under the USDOJ’s regulations.  Because the family would have to pay for insurance and vaccinations above and beyond what other students were required to pay to attend public school, the board policy illegally discriminated against Alboniga’s son because of his disability.

In light of the Florida case, school districts should be cautious about adopting policies that require licenses and vaccinations for service animals, unless those licenses and vaccines are required by state law or local ordinances.  Those requirements differ across counties. 

Ohio Revised Code § 955.01 requires all dogs over the age of three months be registered, but vaccinations, including those for rabies, are a decision delegated to local governments.  Both townships and counties have authority to require vaccinations.  While a rabies vaccination is required in Franklin County, for example, other counties in Ohio do not require rabies vaccinations.  Check with your local animal control officer or public health authority to determine requirements. Note that for school districts with territory in multiple jurisdictions, requirements could differ within the school district based on the student’s address.

OSBA’s legal hotline provides legal information to board members and administrators of OSBA member school districts. For general information about the American with Disabilities Act, please contact OSBA’s division of legal services. For specific questions about the implications this decision may have on your school district, please contact your board counsel.

Posted by Shadya Yazback on 7/27/2015