Education

Wake County looks to regulate animals in classrooms

Joseph Taylor IV, a seventh-grader in Daniel Lockwood’s class at Reedy Creek Middle School in Cary, measures Theodora, a Bearded Dragon, in his Animal Science class recently.
Joseph Taylor IV, a seventh-grader in Daniel Lockwood’s class at Reedy Creek Middle School in Cary, measures Theodora, a Bearded Dragon, in his Animal Science class recently. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Wake County wants to ensure that any dog, snake, iguana, or other animal that students meet in school will be free of health issues that could cause problems for North Carolina’s largest school district.

A Wake County school board committee reviewed Tuesday a proposed policy that would regulate the ways live animals can be brought to schools as classroom pets and for instructional purposes. Administrators say schools need the policy because animals may trigger allergies or cause other health problems for students and staff.

“We wanted to make sure there was an opt-out for parents because of health reasons,” said Kelly Creech, the school system’s director of health services. “Before a guinea pig goes into a classroom – which is a lovely thing – but we need to make sure there’s not a child with asthma in that classroom, that it would be a problem.”

Administrators said the new policy would also ensure that schools are consistently following state guidelines on handling animals. Some outside grants also require schools to have a policy on animals in the classroom.

The policy under discussion is separate from an existing school policy that allows students and staff with disabilities to have service animals on campus.

“We do have other critters in our classrooms from time to time,” said Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for school performance.

The policy states that it doesn’t create a right for staff members, students or others to bring non-service animals onto school property. It includes several requirements:

▪ The principal must give approval before the animals can be brought to school.

▪ Staff must investigate any potential student or staff allergy problems in advance.

▪ Parents must get the opportunity to object, or to have their children opt out of participating in the activity with the animal.

▪ Animals must be housebroken and have received all vaccinations as required under state law.

▪ And school staff members are responsible for the care or supervision of any animals used as part of the curriculum or as classroom pets, and are expected to practice humane treatment at all times.

Some elements were revised Tuesday based on concerns raised by school board attorney Jonathan Blumberg. The policy was modified to say that staff would investigate known allergy issues and that animals would be housebroken and vaccinated where appropriate.

School board member Jim Martin, chairman of the policy committee, raised questions about how the policy could be put into effect, giving biology classes as an example.

“I understand the value of this and the need of this, but I’m also curious about the practicality,” he said.

Creech said students who opt out of assignments would be given alternatives.

All Triangle school systems have policies governing service animals because they’re required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Only some systems, such as the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system, have detailed rules in place for animals used in the classroom. Creech said administrators are working on detailed rules and procedures for Wake that would work with the proposed new policy.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s regulations have sections covering specific types of animals, including dogs, ferrets, fish, reptiles and amphibians and psittacine birds such as parrots, parakeets and cockatiels. For instance, Chapel Hill-Carrboro says ferrets are restricted to science labs and psittacine birds must not fly free in any classrooms or be handled by students.

Administrators will present Wake’s new policy to the full school board in late April or May.

The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urges school systems to stop using live animals in schools, contending it’s unnatural and results in the animals’ being subject to abuse. Annie Leal, youth campaigns coordinator for PETA, cited examples in other districts where animals have been mistreated by students as pranks, including one incident in which a snake was cooked in a microwave.

“The only thing students learn when they see animals in a classroom is to treat them as ... a classroom tool,” she said. “It’s definitely better to see them in their natural environment.”

Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui

Rules on animals in schools

Go to bit.ly/1HhmZKQ to view the proposed Wake County school policy, not including the revisions made Tuesday, on live animals in classrooms. Go to bit.ly/1Gcmza6 to view the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system’s regulations on animals in schools.

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