Autism Service Dogs help children with autism in several ways: the dog can assist children safely access different environments, the dog can be a calming influence, the dog can work on interrupting repetitive behavior by nudging the child, the dog can prevent the child from wandering away (by a tether), and the dog can track the child when they have wandered. Side effects of the dog is that children with autism that have one tend to be calmer and also tend to interact in social situations better than children with autism that do not have a dog.
But schools across the country have taken the position that these dogs are not service dogs, and that they are drawing the line to protect the health and safety of all students. I actually believe that the reason many school districts are refusing to allow the dogs is due to precedent. If they allow one autism service dog in then they must allow more. Parents have been suing school districts over this issue from California to Illinois. Recently 2 Illinois parents won court orders allowing the dogs to accompany their children to school.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a section that addresses this issue. The ADA definition is that the dog must be individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. The ADA does not require the dog to be certified, to be considered a service dog. The service dog must be given total access to any public places where the person with a disability goes under the ADA requirements.
The Department of Justice has taken a stand for the child and parent in these cases. Alejandro Miyar a spokesman for the US Department of Justice states that the ADA requires public schools to allow service dogs to accompany children they serve to class. He also stated that autism is considered a covered disability under the ADA.
Another thing that school districts are doing to try and prevent autism service dogs is to state that this is an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) issue, and must be agreed to by the IEP team. I do not believe that this is the case, and parents should not fall into this trap. The actual issue is that the ADA allows access to service dogs in public places-so the issue is access for the dog. Another issue is, that the school district is discriminating against the child's disability, by refusing to allow the dog to attend class with the child with autism.
The newest tactic used by school districts is that the dog cannot be in the class due to another child's allergies. I think that this argument will not hold up in court due to the fact that the child can be placed in another class, the child could take medication if bothered by the dog, and other ways to limit the child's contact with the dog.
The ADA is clear; public schools must allow service dogs to attend class with a child. Several courts have ruled that it is a violation of the ADA to refuse to allow the dogs in class with a child with autism. If you are considering this for your child you must understand what the school's position may be, and how to overcome it, for the benefit of your child's education! Your child is depending on you to advocate for what they need! Good luck in your fight!