By Lisa Loomis
The Waitsfield Elementary School Board is considering adopting a policy on having animals in the school.
Parents on hand for the December meeting asked questions about what happens when animals in the school trigger students with asthma and whether the school community would be polled or have any say over when a new animal is introduced to the school.
Others at the meeting pointed out that service animals are protected under federal law and must be accommodated, leading board members and the public to question how the conflicting needs of students with service animals and students with allergies or other animal-adverse reactions could be balanced.
"There should be a clear instructional or therapeutic purpose for keeping an animal in a school classroom. In addition, the Waitsfield school board recognizes that instruction related to the care and treatment of animals teaches students a sense of responsibility and promotes the humane treatment of living creatures. It is the policy of the school to notify parents of students in a classroom when an animal is being introduced," the draft reads.
"It is the policy of the Waitsfield Elementary School to support the inclusion of service animals as part of its compliance with federal and state law as well as its belief that our school community values those with different needs and seeks to support them to be fully included in a manner that fosters greater independence," the draft continues.
The policy requires that no animals be brought to school without prior authorization or without veterinary proof of immunizations. Animals brought to the school must be kept under control, on a leash or in a carrier. Animals shall not be transported on the school bus. Wild or protected animals can only be brought to the school by authorized or licensed handlers and there will be no physical contact between those animals and students without prior approval of the principal.
Teachers may have resident class pets, with the permission of the principal, and teachers will be responsible for the humane and proper treatment of the animal in their classroom. The use of service animals is not subject to the restrictions of the proposed policy. "Restricting the presence of service animals on campus is subject only to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its regulations," the draft policy notes.
"Service dogs are not pets and are permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where children normally go. The school reserves the right to restrict a service animal from its premises when it is determined that the dog's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. When a service animal is introduced to the classroom, a team, including the teacher, administrator and family, will be formed to develop a comprehensive plan. This plan will include a detailed description of implementation strategies as well as a communication plan. Determination of threat is the responsibility of the principal. Determination of threat will be made in consultation with the school's child protection team (including the school nurse, counselor and principal)," the policy continues.