Special to the Village News
Therapy dogs will soon be welcome at schools in the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District. Brian Morris, assistant superintendent of human resources, presented the first reading of a "Therapy Animals at School" resolution at the Feb. 6 board meeting.
Alida Leonard, speech therapist at La Paloma Elementary – accompanied by her dog Sandy – also shared at the meeting. Leonard had been bringing Sandy to the school the past three years after the dog was certified by Pet Partners as a therapy dog. At a board meeting in October, Leonard explained that Sandy provided practical solutions for students in emotional or traumatic situation. However, when a teacher at another school in the district wanted to bring her dog to school and was denied, Sandy was restricted while district administrators determined a policy.
That policy was explained and unanimously approved at the Feb. 6 meeting. The second reading is scheduled at the next board meeting on Feb. 27.
"The governing board supports the use of therapy dogs for the benefit of its students subject to the conditions of this policy," the report stated. "Benefits from working or visiting with a therapy dog may include reduced stress, improved physical and emotional well-being, lower blood pressure, decreased anxiety, improved self-esteem and normalization of the environment, and increased likelihood of successful academic achievement."
Examples of activities that students may engage in with a therapy dog include petting and/or hugging the dog, speaking to the dog, giving the dog simple commands that the dog is trained to respond to and reading to the dog.
Morris explained that a therapy dog is a dog who has been individually trained, evaluated and registered with his/her handler to provide animal assisted activities, and animal assisted interactions within a school or other facility. Therapy dogs are not emotional support animals or service animals.
A handler is a school district employee, or volunteer, who owns a therapy dog and who has been individually trained, evaluated and registered with a therapy dog to provide animal assisted activities, and animal assisted interactions within a school or other facility.
A therapy dog is the personal property of the handler and is not the property of the school district. The handler shall assume full responsibility for the therapy dog's care, behavior and suitability for interacting with students and others in the school while the therapy dog is on school district property.
At the request of the principal or the principal's designee, a handler who wishes to bring a therapy dog to school district property must submit a completed written request form to the superintendent or the superintendent's designee, for approval. The request shall be submitted for approval or renewal each school year and/or whenever the handler wishes to use a different therapy dog.
Such approval may be rescinded at any time at the sole discretion of the superintendent, or designee. Once the superintendent or the superintendent's designee approves the request, a plan for dog visits shall be developed with the principal or the principal's designee.
The handler must submit a copy of an insurance policy that provides liability coverage (minimum general liability $1,000,000) for the work of the handler and therapy dog while the two are on school district property.