By Kailey Fisicaro
REDMOND — Redmond School District may loosen its policy on animals in schools after tightening its practice in October, according to a discussion at its most recent school board meeting.
For years, Redmond School District policy has been that animals are not allowed in classrooms long term, such as in the case of class pets. Exceptions include service animals and animals temporarily in the classroom for a lesson — for example, allowing birds to incubate and hatch over a few weeks as part of a science unit.
Practice varied from policy, though. Several teachers had animals in their classrooms, including more traditional class pets, such as turtles or lizards, as well as larger animals, such as dogs.
Superintendent Mike McIntosh decided it was best to revisit the practice in Redmond schools after an Oregon school district recently was sued for an incident involving an animal.
At its Nov. 29 meeting, the school board decided it will have members revisit the policy. For now, the rule will remain: No animals are allowed in the classroom long term unless they are service animals.
Redmond School Board member Shawn Hartfield began researching class pets and how they are included in insurance policies in districts after the school board decided the district should begin enforcing its policy in October.
Hartfield’s research showed that other school districts allow some class pets even though they’re insured by the same organization as Redmond School District, and nearly all school districts in Oregon use PACE — Property and Casualty Coverage for Education — which was created by the Oregon School Boards Association and Special Districts Association of Oregon in 2006.
“What I did is go back because I understand insurance companies and actuarials, and my confusion with the policy being so finite that no animals, even turtles or fish tanks, seemed rather broad,” Hartfield said. Typically, insurance companies go through a policy, look at what has less risk and identify situations or practices they are less concerned with, she said.
Hartfield read 20 school districts’ policies on animals, she said. “The majority of school districts I looked at, their policies fall under PACE,” Hartfield said.
Some of the animal policies she read were so loose, she felt they were outdated and would not serve Redmond School District well. But Medford School District’s policy, updated in April 2017, “clarified which animals could be residents in the buildings,” Hartfield said. In that policy, animals like fish or turtles could stay long term in the classroom, according to Hartfield.
Hartfield proposed looking at Redmond School District’s policy again and perhaps modeling it closer to Medford’s. In Hartfield’s young son’s classroom, a turtle was taken away that was seen as the class pet.
Superintendent Mike McIntosh said his understanding from PACE is that animals cannot be covered by the insurance, but after Hartfield researched more, he found some animals can be covered if Redmond School District identifies such animals in its policy.
“Given that, I think that it’s fair that we have a conversation again,” McIntosh said. “I have to say that I don’t relish the idea of placing more and more decisions on principals that could stir up the emotion and controversy.”
McIntosh said he feels dogs probably are the largest liability, but they’re the most often asked for in Redmond schools.
“No matter how well-trained, no matter how well-behaved, they get startled, frightened, stepped on, poked and poked enough times, bad things happen,” McIntosh said.
School board member Johnny Corbin asked how the board and district should proceed.
“I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to totally do away with pets as long as they are appropriate for the situation,” Corbin said. “However, we also recognize there are some pets that are not appropriate for the classroom, and we need to put in the appropriate verbiage to designate for those that are not for use in the classroom.”
The superintendent said the simplest decision would be to keep the policy it has had for years because of the difficulty in choosing which animals are allowed and which are not. But Hartfield disagreed.
“For me, simple isn’t what we’re here for, and that’s not what’s best for kids,” Hartfield said. “Hard lines in the sand are not what’s best for kids.”
The school board voted to have Hartfield and another school board member, Travis Bennett, an insurance agent in his professional life, revisit the policy.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, email@example.com