Shelley considers allowing ’emotional support’ animals on campus

SHELLEY – The Shelley School District is considering a policy that would allow students to bring “emotional support” animals into schools.

Shelley’s board of trustees will meet on July 21 to develop a policy for these types of animals, which the National Service Animal Registry defines as “a person’s pet that has been prescribed by a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.”

Shelley policy recognizes the Americans With Disabilities Act’s requirements for accommodating service animals. But because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. State and local governments have autonomy to develop policies that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places like schools.

Liability is driving the district’s decision to develop a policy, said Superintendent Bryan Jolley, whose primary concerns include aggressive or untrained dogs, fleas or diseases coming onto campuses.

Shelley superintendent Bryan Jolley
Shelley superintendent Bryan Jolley

But even as the school district prepares to develop a policy, one Shelley teacher and counselor is already using an emotional support animal — and has been for at least three years.

Amy Cook works at Stewart Elementary. Her dog, Pheobe, has a kennel in her classroom and is frequently let out as a means of “comforting” and interacting with students.

Cook said Phoebe has several positive impacts on children at Stewart.

“I’ve seen the animals calm some of them when nothing else could,” she said.

Students are also given permission to walk Phoebe during recess, which opens the way for social interactions that some might not get otherwise.

“Often, a child who wouldn’t get any attention from his or her peers suddenly has people all around, wanting to talk and visit,” she said.

A student at Shelley High School was also granted administrative approval to bring an emotional support dog onto campus last year.

Jolly said the school has had no problems with any emotional support pets thus far, but that a policy would only ensure further safety in the district.

The issue of emotional support animals in Shelley came to the forefront of the community last week when a woman’s pygmy goat, Buddy, was found roving a city park.

The Shelley Pioneer reported that an officer found the goat “trying to play basketball with children.” The goat’s owner now faces the possibility of losing her pet.  She is now in the process of getting Buddy licensed as an emotional support animal – something that could enable her keep the goat.

Shelley mayor Stacie Pascoe worried that the goat might continue to escape and traipse the town.

“My family has raised goats when we lived out in the country and goats will eat anything and they can get out of just about anything,” Pascoe told the Pioneer. “So that’s a big issue for me because if a dog gets out, it will normally go poop on the neighbor’s lawn. But if a goat gets out and eats the neighbor’s flowers, who’s paying for the flowers?”

The city’s attorney is looking into the matter to determine if a policy could be put in place.

The State Board of Education includes emotional support animals in its interpretation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to Blake Youde, chief communications and legislative affairs officer.

Because schools adhere to ADA policy, they should accommodate students claiming need of an emotional support animal, Youde added.

State superintendent spokesman Jeff Church said he is unaware of any state-level policy related to emotional support animals, calling it an “issue of local control.” Local boards of trustees, he said, should decide on such matters.

Some Idaho districts consider emotional support animals on a case-by-case basis:

Boise: The district provides enough flexibility in its policy to allow for the animals, said Betty Olsen, special education administration.

“Staff may not require documentation regarding certification, training, license or vaccination of the service animal,” the district’s policy reads.

Pocatello-Chubbuck: The largest East Idaho district allows for “therapy” dogs but doesn’t specify if these are the same as emotional support animals.

“Dogs used for pet therapy shall be trained and licensed as such,” the policy reads. “A copy of the licensure shall be provided to the building administrator prior to allowing the animal on the premises.”

Bonneville:  No specific policy designates pets as emotional support animals in Bonneville, but the district allows for them on a case-by-case basis, according to school board clerk Mary Hansen.