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Can I Bring an Emotional Support Animal to School?

Updated on Feb 21, 2023 by Darren Jorgensen
Emotional support animals have proven to have major benefits on the overall health and wellness of the individual. With their unconditional love and unwavering companionship, these little-pawed animals have changed the lives of individuals suffering from mental health conditions. These emotional support animals have incredible psychological and therapeutic benefits and there is no surprise that why these furry friends are becoming one of the best ways to treat mental health conditions.
In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of individuals suffering from mental health issues and surprisingly most of them were school or college going students. Yes, it is true! The school or college phase can be a stressful time for many students. Managing academics, puberty hormones, friendships, and a lot more at times takes a toll on the little minds, which is why many students experience the sooner onset of mental health issues.
With the increasing awareness about child mental health cases, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) permitted bringing service animals to public spaces, including schools. Nonetheless, emotional support animals are not regarded as service animals under the ADA and there is usually confusion about whether ESAs are allowed in school. So, dive in and let’s understand all the rules and regulations concerning ESA in schools and also some of the misconceptions that surround this topic.
Can I Bring an Emotional Support Animal to School?

What are Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional Support Animals are the animals that provide love, care and comfort to individuals suffering from any disabilities. An emotional support animal can be any animal, though most of them are dogs or cats. Some people own birds, fish, rabbits, and other animals. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals don’t need to be trained to carry out specific activities.

Emotional support animals and service animals are assistance animals that provide important benefits to the handler. An ESA provides comfort and companionship to individuals suffering from emotional or mental health conditions, while the service animal is trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with physical or sensory disabilities. Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal is not trained specifically to perform tasks or duties for their owners, as the main purpose of an ESA is to provide companionship to their handler.
ESAs are protected by the Fair Housing Act and they enjoy equal rights to accommodate on any property, even the ‘non-pet allowed; accommodations. Yet, they are not allowed to enter public places. However, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a service animal is allowed to accompany their handler in public locations like restaurants, malls, theatres, grocery stores, etc.
Due to the lack of information regarding emotional support animals, people think that only dogs and cats can be considered ESAs. While dogs and cats are the most commonly chosen ESAs, it is important to note that any animal can become an ESA including dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, and even birds. Moreover, animals like guinea pigs, miniature pigs, and even horses can also become an ESA, depending upon the needs of the individual and legal regulations. Therefore, any domesticated animal can be regarded as an emotional support animal.
For people suffering from emotional or mental health issues having an emotional support animal can do wonders. The unconditional love and support from an ESA improves anxiety, alleviates loneliness, enhances social engagement, relieves pain, lowers stress, and boosts pleasure. Therefore, having an emotional support animal can be very therapeutically beneficiary for an individual with mental health conditions. Additionally, mental health professionals also observed mental and emotional health improvements in patients with the help of emotional support animals.
Emotional support animals help people with underlying psychological issues while cuddling or playing with a pet the mind enters a relaxed state which stimulates to release of more serotonin (responsible for controlling mood) and dopamine (determines your level of happiness) hormones, making the individual happier. Thus, having an emotional support animal works as a natural antidepressant for the body. The important thing to note is that mental disorders not only affect the mentality of the individual but also affect their emotional well-being which is why mental stability is closely linked to the emotions of the individual.
This is the reason that often individuals struggling with depression suffer from mood swings. As they can be easily overwhelmed by a negative situation, putting their emotions in other directions.
Thus, having an ESA can help stabilize the emotions of the individual. These little furry friends being attentive listeners are best to pour out your heart during a rough phase. With love and unwavering companionship, an emotional support animal will help you get a grip on a messy situation and come out of despair faster.

Legal Considerations:

The emotional support animals enjoy housing privileges under the FHA. The Fair Housing Act allows the ESA to live with their handlers in any accommodation without facing any discrimination. This involves even the ‘no pets allowed’ accommodations, however, FHA does not protect the ESA rights to public places. Whereas under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is allowed access to public places also. Yet, it is important to note that ESAs are not considered service animals.

The federal law also protected the ESA rights for air travel under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which allowed the ESAs to fly with their handler without facing any discrimination. However, in 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation revised ACAA regulations and gave the power into the hands of the airlines, with which only certain airlines now allow emotional support animals on planes.
Moreover, concerning the increased cases of mental and emotional disorders in teenagers. Several schools also allow emotional support animals to accommodate their handler in the student dorms. However, schools and universities are not legally required to allow ESA on their property. Regardless, they allow the ESA considering the value of the ESA in the handler’s life.
Moreover, a school or university can deny the ESA accommodation if it would pose an undue financial burden or if the behavior of the ESA poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Additionally, a school or college may not allow several ESAs such as a miniature horse, pigs, etc.
Further, under the FHA, the handler should have control over the ESA. And, they may not be charged an extra fee for accommodating their emotional support animal in schools. However, in case of any property damage, the handler would be responsible.
It is important to note that the school or university would not allow your ESA automatically to the dorm or the campus. For that, the student needs to show an ESA letter obtained from a licensed mental health professional that would legitimize the role of the ESA in the well-being of the student.

Challenges and Misconceptions

Let’s address the common challenges and misconceptions associated with bringing emotional support animals to school.

Can my school deny my ESA?

Mostly, No. Nevertheless, if the school or college finds the ESA dangerous or an undue financial burden then they may deny accommodating them. However, most schools these days are animal-friendly, so it is advised to have a prior discussion about the ESA and get a legitimate ESA letter obtained from a licensed mental health professional to enjoy school or college companionship with your little friend.

Is an ESA the same as a service animal?

No, service animals and ESA are very different. A service animal is trained to perform tasks to support the handler with a disability. Whereas, Emotional support animals are for the emotional and mental companionship of the handler and they do not require any formal training. The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to service animals, not ESAs.

Can My Current Pet Be Treated as an ESA?

Yes, your current pet can also be treated as an ESA, provided they should be helping you out in any way by either providing you emotional support or helping you out with any work. With the help of a valid ESA letter, you can legally legitimize them and even bring them to school.

How do I bring an ESA with me to school?

Policies vary from school to school and it is important to learn about your school’s specific policy regarding ESAs. Typically, the process begins in the school’s office of disability services. The disability office will ask for documentation of a disability and a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that an ESA is needed. Some schools may have additional requirements such as the length of time that you have been a patient of the mental health professional. The school might ask to see documentation of veterinarian visits, relevant vaccinations, or other evidence that your animal is healthy and being taken care of properly.

How Can Students Get Their Emotional Support Animal Letter?

For an emotional support letter, the student needs to follow a 3 step easy process.
1. Consulting a licensed professional
At Fast ESA Letter we become your ultimate guide in getting an ESA letter. By simply creating an account at Fast ESA Letter you get access to the top, qualified licensed medical health professional at the ease of your home.
2. Diagnosis of the disorder
With Fast ESA Letter, a top, qualified, and authorized mental health professional, diagnoses your mental and emotional health condition at ease of home either by a video or an audio call depending on the comfort of the individual.
3. Receiving the letter
Once the consultation is done if the LMHP finds the need for ESA suitable for the individual’s mental well-being, the letter signed by the top licensed medical health professional is sent in the mail from where the individual can download it.

Can I take my ESA to the class?

Yes! Some institutions allow taking your ESA with you to the classrooms. But if your ESA does not behave properly or tries to create any nuisance in the classroom, then you may be asked to leave your ESA at home or the dorm. However, as per the Fair Housing Act, ESA is only allowed in housing, not in the classrooms, but still, many colleges are welcoming the ESA in the lecture halls. Direct communication with your school is preferable in this case.

Is the ESA allowed in Schools/Colleges Legally?

Legally, it is not required for schools and universities to permit emotional support animals on their property. However, some schools allow ESA access to their campus because their administration recognizes and values their significant role in students’ lives.
However, housing providers often can seek FHA exclusions for harmful animals, which could cause unreasonable financial hardship. Consequently, a college may be able to reject some ESA, such as a miniature horse.

Possible conflicts with roommates, landlords, or school policies regarding having an ESA in school

One of the main concerns when it comes to bringing the ESA to school is the potential conflicts with roommates, landlords, or school policies, so let’s understand them and navigate how to deal with those situations. It is important to understand that emotional support animals do not undergo any specific training which is why they are not temperament tested or ensure good behavior in a variety of situations.
Therefore, it is important to abide by the school or university policies to avoid any conflict. Moreover, several steps like getting the ESA vaccinated, always wearing a leash when out of the dorm, preventative treatment for parasites including ticks, fleas, etc., and good and calm behavior of the ESA can help prevent possible conflicts with school policies and other students.
Additionally, schools or universities should also make sure that they protect the rights of students with documented disabilities and ensure they can reside with their ESA in an environment that will not be harmful to other students. Moreover, schools should prevent placing a student with an allergy or phobia of animals in the same housing as the ESA student. The school staff should also keep a check on the ESA during their rounds before university breaks or holidays. Schools should make sure that the student with an ESA does not undergo any neglect, abuse, or the issue of inadequate shelter.
Sharing a room with a student who has ESA can be difficult for some students as they may face smell or barking issues, however, it is important to understand the role of the ESA in the life of that individual. Moreover, the roommate needs to understand the mental and emotional disability of the student and foster a healthy living environment for them. Also, the handler should make sure that the ESA is well-behaved and does not interrupt the well-being of other students.
Moreover, the student should remember that for a hassle-free living experience, they need to get the only legal and legitimate document for allowing the ESA in school which is an ESA letter obtained from a licensed medical health professional on their letterhead. Moreover, the ESA letter should contain essential information like the license number of the LMHP, date of issuance, etc. An illegitimate ESA letter may lead to a conflict with the school dorm landlords.

Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Animal in a Student’s Life

Keeping an Emotional Support Animal in school dorms leads them to various mental benefits such as:

Accompany Students:

Most of the students live alone in their rooms which sometimes leads to disorders like depression. Emotional support animals give company to the students by being by their side anytime. They are better companions and can alleviate illness and remove the thoughts of isolation and loneliness from students’ minds.

Help in Easing Depression:

An emotional support animal can be very beneficial for the individual who feels low and depressed. Any pet like a dog, cat, or rabbit can be good at providing companionship for mentally disabled patients. As by touching your pet, sitting next to them, or playing with a pet can lead to the release of good hormones which can help in reducing depression.

Reduces Stress Level:

On a routine basis, students face the burden of exams, assignments, and career planning, along with their personal life issues. At such hard times, emotional support animals can help to manage stress levels. Playing with dogs, cats, or other animals can lower blood pressure and help you feel calmer and less stressed.

Increasing Exercise:

Going for regular exercise not only keeps you healthy but soothes your mind too. Taking a dog for regular walks, hikes or runs is a healthy way to exercise and add a routine to your schedule. Studies discovered that dog owners are more active and fit due to their daily exercise routines.
Therefore, having an ESA in school can positively impact the mental health and overall well-being of individuals with mental or emotional health conditions.

Paperwork required to bring an emotional support animal to school.

Policies to allow an emotional support animal to the school may differ from school to school. Thus, it is necessary to understand the school’s specific policy regarding ESAs. Generally, the procedure starts in the school’s office of disability services. The disability office will request documentation of a disability which is a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating the need for an ESA in the emotional well-being of the individual.

What is an ESA letter and why is it important for getting ESA in schools?

ESA letter is the official document that legitimizes the presence of an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) and it is issued by a licensed Mental Health Professional, psychologist, psychiatrist, or physician. The letter acts as a prescription that states the need for an ESA for the well-being of the individual. The animals with ESA letters are easily accommodated in rental housing, school dorms, and accommodations with ‘no pet allowed’ policies which are otherwise difficult.

How to get an ESA letter for school?

Let’s comprehend the step-by-step procedure for obtaining an ESA letter that is required for allowing ESA in schools.

3 steps process to get esa letter

1. Consulting a licensed medical health professional

To get an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter, the first step is to consult with a qualified and licensed mental health professional in your state. During the consultation, the individual must be honest regarding their mental and emotional condition as this would help the medical professional to understand their situation and decide if an ESA is suited for their mental well-being.
The process of getting an ESA letter begins with finding a reputable, qualified, and authorized mental health professional who can precisely evaluate the mental and emotional condition of the individual and provide the required documentation. At times it can be difficult to find an LMHP, which is why at Fast ESA Letter we become your ultimate guide in getting an ESA letter. By simply creating an account at Fast ESA Letter you get access to the top, qualified licensed medical health professional at the ease of your home.

2. Diagnosis and recommendation of disorder

After you get access to the top, qualified, and authorized mental health professional, they will diagnose your condition and recommend an Emotional Support Animal if that is good for your mental well-being. Therefore, an individual must openly communicate their feelings and experiences so that the LMHP can correctly assess their need for an ESA. With Fast ESA Letter, this diagnosis can be easily done from the ease of home either by a video or an audio call depending on the comfort of the individual.

3. Receiving the ESA letter

Once the consultation is done, if the LMHP finds the need for ESA suitable for the individual’s mental well-being, the letter signed by the top licensed medical health professional is sent in the mail from where the individual can download it. However, the ESA letter must include the contact information, license number, and signature of the licensed mental health professional to validate its authenticity.
Some schools may require additional documents such as the length of time that you have been a patient of the mental health professional. The school might ask to see documentation of veterinarian visits, relevant vaccinations, or other evidence that your emotional support animal is healthy and being taken care of properly. Moreover, the individual might be required to communicate with additional offices like campus security, and fellow residents to figure out the logistics of having an animal on campus.
To legally acquire an emotional support animal (ESA) an individual needs to qualify for a mental health disability, diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional who can further write an ESA letter. This ESA letter is the only official document that legally legitimizes the ESA and gets them access to federal rights secured for ESAs.
It is important to note that only a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed therapist can write an ESA letter. Based on an individual’s emotional and mental health condition, these professionals evaluate their need for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA).

Creating a Supportive Environment

To ensure a healthy and hassle-free incorporation of the ESA into the campus community proactive efforts and detailed communication are required. The student must communicate with different authorities to foster a healthy environment for the ESA as well as themselves.
Apart from getting an ESA letter, the student must also communicate with the security staff, the hostel wardens, and other relevant authorities. Professors should understand how having an ESA can positively contribute to the mental health of the student which would ultimately lead to their growth in all areas of life. Moreover, professors could play a significant role in dispelling the stigma surrounding mental health.
Also, the roommates should understand the needs and boundaries of the students with mental or emotional health conditions and foster a healthy environment for them. However, the ultimate pillar remains communication, which means that communicating with required authorities, friends, and teachers about your conditions can help in the smooth integration of emotional support animals into the campus community.
It is important to understand that it is our responsibility to build a community where people understand the needs of persons with disabilities so that they can come out and attest to their conditions and head toward a healthy lifestyle.

Responsibilities of ESA Owner

Having an emotional support animal in school or university campus may also lead to several concerns at times, as the ESAs are not trained animals which is why their behavior can be an issue at times. Moreover, a non-behaved and uncalm ESA can also disrupt the environment of the school campus leading to a problem for the teachers and the other students. That is why with a long list of benefits of the emotional support animal comes some responsibilities for the owner which include taking proper care of the ESA behavior, adherence to guidelines, veterinary care, and looking after the well-being of the ESA.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, bringing an ESA to school may depend upon the school’s policies. Nevertheless, the number of pet-friendly colleges that allow ESA in dorm rooms is increasing with time concerning increased awareness regarding mental health. Therefore, it is important to understand the need for emotional support animals and their role in the lives of individuals suffering from mental and emotional health to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all students.

About the Author

Vincent Maldonado
Darren Jorgensen
Darren M. Jorgensen has a fondness for all animals, though dogs especially, have a huge home in his heart. He enjoys quilting, making handcrafted soap and bodyworks and anything that produces practical products. Jorgensen lives with his own service dog who doubles as an Emotional Support Animal. He gets it.

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