Greene County school board preparing for a canine student

Conner Allender introduces Cecil to the school board.

Last month the Greene County Schools board of education updated its policy regarding international exchange students. This month, the board approved the first reading of a policy regarding another sort of student – a four-legged student.

Approving the policy will open the school doors to Cecil, a dog-in-training to serve a wounded military veteran through the Puppy Jake Foundation (PJF). Cecil’s trainer is sophomore Conner Allender.

Conner has completed all the trainer training the PJF requires. She made a brief presentation to the school board during the open forum at the March 13 meeting. She also introduced Cecil, a yellow lab who is only 8 weeks old.

Maggie Donovan, office manager for the PJF in Des Moines, also did an informational presentation for the board during the work session. According to Donovan, the service dogs trained by PJF accompany their master everywhere, so a dog-in-training goes everywhere his or her trainer goes. In a school or office setting the dog stays under his master’s desk or chair, or very nearby.

According to Donovan, Conner will be the fourth high school trainer for PJF. Two students at Van Meter High School take their dogs-in-training to school. School superintendent Tim Christensen said he had spoken with the superintendent there; he reported no problems arising from the dogs.

The use of service dogs by persons with disabilities is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA applies to an animal that has already been trained, not animals-in-training.

However, the Greene County school board is using a policy written by the Iowa Association of School Boards, and that policy specifically allows trainers and service animals in training to be in all public areas of school district buildings.

Board member Steve Fisher raised a concern for students and staff who are allergic to dogs. Donovan answered that because the animals are one of the “reasonable modifications” mentioned in the ADA, they can’t be excluded from a public place.

There was also discussion of assistive animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals. A therapy dog has visited the middle school several times in recent years with the permission of school principal Shawn Zanders. He reported the dog’s visits have been very beneficial, particularly for some special education students.

Board Policy 106, titled “Assistance Animals,” will be on second reading at the board’s April 17 meeting.

The board also approved the first reading of revisions to Board Policy 606.3 dealing with animals in the classroom. That policy states that live animals are not allowed in school district facilities “except under special circumstances and only for an educational purpose.”

The revision adds that the policy is not intended to address the use of service animals, assistive animals, therapy animals or emotional support animals on district property.

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