Can Social Science Teach Congress New Tricks?: Addressing the Need for Educational Support Dogs in Classrooms

Volume 97

By Elaina H. Wilson

In the United States, children with disabilities are afforded protections in three federal statutes: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. However, these laws fail to provide for educational support dogs in public schools, despite the common and successful use of educational support dogs in other countries. The success of educational support dogs abroad is not suprising, as recent waves of social science research make clear the benefits of dogs in schools, from increased productivity within the classroom to improved morale within the school community at large. Additionally, this research suggests that dogs in educational settings can have the biggest impact on children with disabilities. Still, these U.S. laws generally bar children with disabilities from accessing educational support dogs in public schools.

To address this problem, this Note focuses on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as it is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as it allows for the most flexibility and opportunity for collaboration, compared to the other two laws affording protections to children with disabilities. Specifically, this Note urges Congress to consider recent social science understandings and amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to add a provision mirroring the Companion Animals Act 1998 of New South Wales, Australia, which allows for educational support dogs in classrooms when and where school officials see fit. This provision would provide children, particularly those with ADHD and other disabilities, better opportunity to access educational support dogs in U.S. public schools and, thus, experience the multitude of benefits identified by the studies highlighted in this Note.

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