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Therapy dog policy

April 27, 2020

The Massena Central School Board of Education will wait another month before approving a new policy governing therapy dogs after a board member posed several questions during its recent meeting.

The policy, which was scheduled to be adopted on Monday, notes that a written application must be submitted to the superintendent, and will be reviewed by “a committee established by the superintendent for that purpose. The committee will include one or more canine experts.”

Among the questions board member Kevin Perretta had was, “What is the definition of a canine expert?” He also wondered, among other questions, if the custodial staff would be responsible for cleaning up therapy dog accidents indoors and outdoors, and he requested a definition of how students and adults opposed to the dog would be handled.

Board member Loren Fountaine suggested the board table the action until its May meeting.

“Then maybe you can forward those email questions to all of us,” he told Mr. Perretta.

Board President Patrick Bronchetti agreed.

“It’s not an emergency to get this done today,” he said. “To start in the fall, we would probably have to deal with it by the next meeting. We can try to get answers to Kevin’s questions for the next meeting.”

He wondered if the Policy Committee would be answering the questions posed by Mr. Perretta. Superintendent Patrick Brady said if they were looking to make changes to the policy or suggestions for revisions, it would be reviewed by the Policy Committee.

“At this point we have some questions,” he said.

The policy was drafted after high school guidance counselor Nicole LaPage requested that the board consider allowing her to use therapy dogs to reduce anxiety among some students. She said she would like to pilot the program during the 2020-21 school year.

According to the policy, “This pilot-program will begin with the 2020-21 school year, be reviewed throughout the year, and a determination will be made to continue or discontinue the program by July 1, 2021. During the pilot-program a therapy dog will be allowed at Massena High School under the supervision of its handler in the school counselors’ office.”

The policy notes that district officials support the implementation of the program “for the social and emotional benefit of its students.”

The therapy dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.

“The therapy dog must be under the control of the handler through the use of a leash or other tether except in rooms or areas that have a closed door and unless the use of a leash or other tether would interfere with the therapy dog’s safe, effective performance of its work or tasks,” the policy reads.

The handler will be solely responsible for supervision and care of the therapy dog, including any feeding, exercising and cleanup while the animal is in a school building or on school property.

The district is not responsible for providing any care, supervision or assistance for a therapy dog.

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