The MDI Regional School System has adopted a new service animal policy. STOCK IMAGE

Service animal rules set for schools

BAR HARBOR — A policy allowing service animals in schools has been adopted by each of the schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.

The policy defines “service animal” as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.”

The policy states that miniature horses are not defined as service animals under state or federal law.

“However, miniature horses which have been individually trained … may be permitted in the school in certain circumstances as a reasonable accommodation for a qualified person with a disability.”

The schools are not responsible for “the training, feeding, grooming or care of any service animal.” However, the schools “may provide support to a student using a service animal as needed in a particular instance,” such as accompanying a young student who takes an animal outside to relieve itself.

Under the policy, a school administrator may ban a service animal from the school if it poses a threat to health or safety or if its presence “significantly impairs the learning or students and/or fundamentally alters the nature of any school program.”

The most common service animals are dogs that are trained to assist the visually impaired. But they can be trained for other purposes. For example, diabetes alert dogs can sense when a person’s blood sugar level is rising or falling to dangerous levels.

This is the first time area schools have had a formal policy on service animals, although there have been service dogs in some of the schools from time to time.

Superintendent Howard Colter said one challenge is having service dogs in school with children who are allergic to dog dander.

“Fortunately, our parents and school personnel work very hard at doing what is best for everyone, which is not always easy,” he said.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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