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District approves therapy animal policy

River Falls K-12 students may be seeing animals in school more often in the future. The River Falls School District recently approved a new therapy animals policy.

District Director of Student Services Jackie Stienhoff said the idea came from a discussion she'd had with staff at a conference. The teachers asked for guidance with animals coming in.

She said she spoke with the district's principals, who also asked for guidance and direction.

The goal, Steinhoff said, is to make sure that students, staff and any visiting animals are all safe.

"Therapy animals technically can be a species, typically dogs or cats," she said. "They're trained and screened in ability to interact with people or other animals to give comfort."

Steinhoff said a few dogs have come in. For example, kids can read to dogs to practice their reading fluency, while feeling less pressure. The dogs can't offer advice, but can help kids build confidence, Steinoff said.

"Another big one is when we some student cries, especially with some student deaths," she said.

In those situations, she said, the district brings in therapy animals.

"We have some staff that want to bring in their animals as a therapy trained certified animal, and have them in their classroom," Steinhoff said.

She said that has not happened, but staff had requested permission to do so.

Per the new policy, in order to bring in a therapy animal, a request form must first be filled out, explaining why the animal is being brought in, what type of animal it is, a description of the animal's temperament, where the animal will be housed for the time its present, who will handle it, who will clean up if the animal has an accident, and how the animal's presence fits into the curriculum.

Steinhoff said any animals that come in will need to be certified as therapy animals.

Starting in the fall, families will fill out an allergy form sheet asking if kids are allergic to animals. Steinhoff said that will be included with other forms parents fill out at the beginning of the year.

"I think it's a great move forward to help our kids stay focused, stay enthusiastic about school," Steinhoff said. "It's a good addition."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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