Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district has amended rules to allow students to bring support dogs to class.
Under old administrative procedures, “animals, including all pets, should not be kept or brought onto school properties” unless for learning purposes and with permission from the school principal. However, district staff made amendments to allow assistance dogs, provided they are certified and are not roaming freely around school facilities.
The new rules will allow for autism support, hearing, seizure response, service, guide and therapy dogs, identifiable by a dog vest. Parents must provide a letter to the school district asking for admittance for the assistance dog, as well as confirmation from a professional regarding “diagnosis of a recognized disability, including a recommendation for the use of an assistance dog.” Proof of dog training from an accredited agency will also be a prerequisite and parents must also be willing to foot the bill for additional costs, such as training for staff and classroom modifications.
At Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ education committee meeting on Wednesday, trustee Jessica Stanley wondered about how “competing challenges” involving students with assistance dogs and those with allergies would be managed. Kerri Steel, district director of instruction for inclusive education, said it would be managed on a case-by-case basis.
“There are some mechanisms for having conversation with both families and figuring out a way that if it’s possible to manage it successfully, then we do, and if not, then we have to look at which settings and environments the animals are present in and where they’re not,” Steel said.
There is also guidance available from the bodies that regulate service dogs, she said.
Trustee Greg Keller sought clarification about other support animals, but Steel said the procedure would only apply to dogs.
“I took a look at policies and procedures from a number of neighbouring districts and also took a look at information the regulatory bodies put out regarding the animals … but in all cases, the ones that can be certified and approved for schools are dogs,” said Steel.