[nfbwatlk] Clover Park schools: Don't teach dogs here, Tacoma News Tribune, November 3 2009

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Wed Nov 4 21:20:39 UTC 2009


Clover Park schools: Don't teach dogs here
Clover Park: Superintendent says it's a liability when staff members bring service dogs in training
DEBBIE CAFAZZO; The News Tribune
Published: 11/03/09

Angie Jennen Photo:  Kirsch often rests at the feet of Angie Jennen under her desk at work. This is where the dogs stay typically stay when others are in my office.

To school psychologist Angie Jennen, her black Labrador retriever Mick is a four-legged teacher, helper and built-in reward system for the kids she works with every day.

But to Clover Park School District Superintendent Debbie LeBeau, Mick is a potential liability, a possible distraction and a threat to air quality. That's why she has asked Jennen to leave Mick at home.

Mick is training to join the ranks of service dogs, which assist disabled people in performing everyday tasks. Exposing the dogs to children and a work environment is an important part of their training, Jennen explained.

"Just having the dog there has impacted kids in ways I never would have imagined," she said. "Having the dog there has been a tool for doing my job."

Counters LeBeau: "I'm not disputing the value of it. I'm just saying this is a liability. I do think there is educational value. I just don't know that it needs to be every day, all day long."

Jennen, who splits her time between Woodbrook and Mann middle schools in Lakewood, began training service dogs as a volunteer and taking them to school as part of their training in 2004.

Mick, her fifth dog, came to her from a California-based group called Canine Companions for Independence. She became interested in raising service dogs after her son, a quadriplegic, obtained one.

"He was on a waiting list for seven years to get a service dog," Jennen said. "They were talking about how they needed puppy raisers."

Each dog stays with her for about 18 months before being matched with a disabled person.

Back in 2004, Jennen said, district officials - including then-Superintendent Al Cohen - seemed fine with the idea. It wasn't until this school year that the issue arose again among Clover Park administrators.

LeBeau said a student with a disability at Lakes High School needed a service dog. In discussing the student's need and reviewing district procedures governing animals in schools, "it heightened our awareness," LeBeau said.

Although the district was eager to accommodate the student's need, LeBeau said, it took a different view of the working dogs employed by staff members without disabilities.

LeBeau sent letters to Jennen and to Janene Loudon, a school district occupational therapist with a 7-year-old Labrador-golden retriever that has been coming to school with her for five years. Loudon's dog, named Calais, is fully trained as a therapy dog.

LeBeau told both women this year that they should stop bringing their dogs to school.

"Your trained dog is a service animal, but it is not clear who is the recipient of the service," LeBeau wrote Oct. 23 to Loudon, whose work can take her to as many as nine different schools. "We do not have a sanctioned therapy dog program in Clover Park School District and there is no paperwork on file to indicate you require a service dog in order to function at work."

LeBeau told Jennen in a letter dated Oct. 23 that animals in school are a liability concern.

"Although you have insurance for your animal, anything that occurs on district property is our responsibility, especially when we authorize the request," LeBeau wrote.

Both Jennen and Loudon were heartbroken.

They met with LeBeau and spoke to the Clover Park School Board in an effort to get the ruling reversed. But board president Marty Schafer said in a letter that the decision was up to the superintendent.

Both Loudon and Jennen thought they had followed district procedures for bringing animals to schools - filling out paperwork and consulting with their building principals. But LeBeau told both women that written records are incomplete or missing.

Procedures call for parents of students in schools where animals are present to be notified each year in writing. Jennen said parents have been informed by her principals, although LeBeau said that some of the notifications have been through automated phone messages and not in writing.

"The reasons for parents to be notified has to do with children's allergies," LeBeau said. "We have students in the district who have a fear of animals. We have fragile children."

Both Jennen and Loudon say they have never received a complaint from a parent about their dogs.

LeBeau told both Jennen and Loudon that she had consulted with the Puget Sound Educational Service District, which advises area school districts. She said the ESD conducted a survey and districts that responded do not allow training animals full-time in their schools.

Policies on animals in schools vary from district to district, according to Elizabeth Jakab, a consultant for the ESD's workers compensation trust who shared information with LeBeau.

"There is not a consensus," Jakab said. Some districts have no policies, while others restrict animals to short visits, she said.

The Lake Washington School District in King County leaves the decision up to each principal. The Puyallup School District requires principal approval for animals used as part of an instructional program. It simply says that health issues, including allergies among students and staff, and shots for the animal, "must be addressed" before an animal is allowed at school.

Jakab views animals at school as a potential health problem and a threat to indoor air quality. With national statistics showing that an average classroom has at least three children with asthma, she said, animals can create threats even to children who don't come into direct contact with them. She said there is more awareness now about those kinds of threats than in years past.

In Lakewood, both Jennen and Loudon are hoping they can convince the district administration that Mick and Calais bring more to school than health threats.

For now, they are trying to use the experience to teach students a new lesson: to follow orders, just like kids have to do when their mom or dad tells them to do something.

LeBeau said she believes the discussion is closed.

"But I am always open to listening to people," she added.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635

debbie.cafazzo at thenewstribune.com

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