MASSENA — The Massena Central School District Board of Education has approved the first reading of a policy governing therapy dogs after the district’s Policy Committee addressed concerns raised by board members at a previous meeting.
The policy had previously been sent back for Policy Committee review after school board members questioned some of the language. The policy had been on the agenda for approval during the April meeting but was defeated.
Board president Paul A. Haggett, vice president Amber L. Baines and Jodele L. Hammock voted to approve the first reading, and Kevin F. Perretta, Loren J. Fountaine, Robert M. LeBlanc, Patricia F. Murphy and Timothy J. Hayes voted against it.
Board members questioned the timing of the training and certification of the dog, either before the dog is allowed in school or once in the school. A therapy dog is currently in use at JW Leary Junior High School.
The initial policy said that the dog must be trained and certified before it can be in the building, but then said training would be done in the building.
“It doesn’t make sense. I agree that you say it has to have this criteria and then you allow it to happen on the premises. So we should change the policy to reflect that so it actually says what it means,” Mr. Fountaine said during the board’s April meeting. “The way I read that is that they cannot be approved unless they’ve had the training, and then the dog has not had the training. I think the wording needs to be changed. It’s not a matter of whether I disagree with the policy. But the way it’s written seems to kind of contradict itself.”
That has since been amended, Mr. Perretta said during the board’s meeting last week.
“The biggest contention with the therapy dog policy was the statement that the therapy dog would be allowed to complete its training in the school,” he said. “That was sort of counterintuitive to the minimum requirements of that therapy dog, and so that was the crux of the arguments back and forth. Ultimately what we agreed to was, if that statement goes away, that the therapy dog can automatically complete its training in school. Then likely, maybe, the board will accept it.”
During the April meeting, Mr. Perretta also shared his concern about the interaction between the dog and students.
“The first paragraph of this policy says that the therapy dog will be allowed under the supervision of a team or in the school counselor’s office. We previously established that there’s a mechanism in place to ask the question of who does or doesn’t want to be around the dog,” he said during that meeting. “If the dog is wandering all over the school, how do you protect anyone who is uncomfortable with the dog?”
That, too, has been addressed, he said at last week’s meeting.
“There was an additional statement advocating for the rights of anyone who has an aversion to dogs and clearly stating that they have some protections within that policy, student or staff,” Mr. Perretta said. “So, an additional statement regarding that was added to that policy.”
With the amendments, the board unanimously passed the first reading of the policy.