Which was against the rules ...

New tougher rules against pets in school deprive students of a richer experience

The Medford School District's new policy barring most animals from campuses differs little from strict rules adopted in other districts around the country. But we wish local educators had resisted the growing compulsion to protect children from all risks, no matter how small.

Various pets have taken up residence in Medford schools, including Sunflower the cat and Bella, a support dog for special education students at Lone Pine Elementary School. Both have been banished under the new policy.

Developed last winter and now being enforced, the district's policy is intended to protect children from allergic reactions, respiratory diseases, other health and safety issues and potential bites or scratches. Apparently no incident or incidents occurred to prompt the tougher rules, however — just concern that something bad might happen.

It's always easier to say no than to make reasonable accommodations that might give students the benefit of having animals in school while protecting kids who are allergic. And there are benefits, as district officials acknowledge.

Animals in school can be effective teaching aids. The National Science Teachers Association endorses using animals in science classes, where they can offer real-life lessons about habitat, handling and feeding. Studies have shown that caring for animals in the classroom improves attendance, connects students with the natural world and even offers emotional benefits to kids who need a boost.

There will be students who are allergic to animals, and they certainly need to be protected from contact that can cause a reaction. But that should be achievable without banishing animals entirely.

Increasingly, our modern society seems determined to protect children from any risk whatsoever, ignoring the fact that generations of children have survived and flourished while playing in the dirt, walking to school alone and, yes, interacting with dogs, cats and other animals, sometimes in school settings.

Banning animals may make school administrators feel safer from potential lawsuits, and it certainly simplifies their jobs if they don't have to monitor a menagerie along with buildings full of children.

But that approach also deprives students of the richer educational experience animals can provide.


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