A beloved member of the Pine Valley Elementary community may soon return to school.
The school recently found out that her dog, Palmer, would no longer be allowed in the building due to insurance issues. That is turning course, however, after the school board discussed the issue Tuesday and was told Palmer will be able to return to school once a memorandum of understanding is reached between the district and paws4people, a local organization. of assistance dogs.
“The teacher who has run this program, has an impeccable record, has a good reputation, and I feel like there is nothing that he has done … that has caused this program to be removed,” said board vice president Stephanie Walker. .
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During a school board meeting in February, board attorney Colin Shive told board members that while the insurance policy allows dogs on the premises, they must be handled by an outside handler. Because Palmer was tutored by fifth grade teacher Mark McCann, she was unable to be in school due to liability issues.
But Shive retracted that statement during Tuesday’s board meeting. He said the district’s insurance company, Liberty Mutual, provided a list of requirements that the facility’s dog program must meet, but those requirements don’t include details about who could be a handler.
Superintendent Charles Foust said once a memorandum of understanding is in place between the district, paws4people and the insurance company, the school could go ahead with the program.
It’s still unclear why the facility’s dog program became such a problem in recent months. Palmer had been at Pine Valley Elementary for about five years after the school board voted unanimously to bring the program into the district.
“This was traumatic for a lot of the kids,” board member Judy Justice said during the board meeting. “I have no idea where this idea to remove the dog came from, but in the future, whoever made that decision, please be more proactive about the effect it will have on children.”
Service dogs will continue to be allowed on the premises while the MOU is being worked on. Service dogs are different from facility dogs because they serve a person with a disability and have rights similar to those of people under the Americans with Disabilities Act, whereas facility dogs serve a building, such as a school as a whole. Facility dogs are often present in hospitals, mental health centers, police departments, and other buildings where they act as emotional support for those using the facilities.
In a document obtained by StarNews on Tuesday, Liberty Mutual outlined several recommendations to ensure safety while a facility dog is present. That included submitting an annual application for approval, proof of liability insurance, acknowledgment that the staff or other handler of the dog will follow the district’s policies regarding animals on the premises, and indemnity language in favor of the district if the animal causes property damage or bodily harm. .
However, the document specifically identifies members of a school’s staff as potential dog handlers. It does not include any details regarding the requirements on who can act as a handler. It says that the owner of a facility animal must have proof that he is trained and certified for pet therapy visits. He must also be up to date on medical requirements and vaccinations and be properly groomed.
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Insurance company requirements also say that students should always be supervised when interacting with the dog and should wash their hands immediately afterwards. Staff must disinfect areas where the dog has been. In addition, the dog must always be on a leash under the control of the handler, unless it prevents the animal from completing a task.
Liberty Mutual’s document does describe that a dog can be removed from school if it exhibits behavioral problems, is not up to date with health requirements, or inhibits the educational process. Schools with a dog present on the premises must have written parental permission for any interaction their student may have with the dog and must have a plan for students with allergies or fears of dogs.
Shive said the district is currently working on developing an agreement with paws4people, but there is no timeline for when it will be completed.
StarNews has reached out to paws4people for comment, but the organization said it will release an official statement once the memorandum of understanding is complete.
Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.