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Lambton-Kent schools prepared for service animal legislation

Lambton-Kent schools are ahead of the curve when it comes to service animal policies.

The provincial government has proposed a legislative amendment to support students with service animals to request they be allowed in all schools across Ontario, saying that right now, only 39 of 72 school boards across Ontario have policies in place to address that need.

The Lambton-Kent District School Board (LKDSB) and St. Clair Catholic District School Board (SCCDSB) are well-prepared for that change, though, because they both already have similar policies in place.

According to the superintendent of education for the SCCDSB, Lisa Demers, they implemented their policy in 2010. Demers said the board was trying to be proactive after noticing other schools around the province creating policies. She added the SCCDSB is prepared if the amendment goes through.

“We certainly have the foundation in place with our existing policy,” Demers said. “We’ll look to see what the ministry has as further suggestions and we will look to align our policies according to ministry directives.”

Demers said she doesn’t think new legislature will change their policies much or create any problems.

While the SCCDSB was being proactive, as they had no students who needed service animals at the time, the LKDSB was being reactive when they implemented theirs.

According to Angie Barrese, superintendent of education of the LKDSB, they created their policy in 2012 because they had students who needed service dogs. Barrese said it is good timing by the government because the policy is up for review this year.

“We’ve started to investigate because there has been new sources of information that we want to include in the policy,” Barrese said. “That includes human rights documentation that may not have been referenced previously that we were actually in process of updating when we received the announcement.”

The biggest change could for both school boards could be that they only have policies for service dogs. Both superintendents took note the release from the government specifically said “service animals.”

“We’ll be interested to see what the ministry lays out for us as far as the expectation around service animals,” Barrese said. “We’ll be waiting for that legislation in order to make our next best move, knowing full well that we already have procedures in place to support students as needed.”

According to the policies in both school boards, only service dogs are permitted because they are the only animals trained and certified. The policy does state the only way a service dog would not be permitted in a classroom is if there is a student who is allergic or has a phobia of dogs. Barrese added any dog prohibited by law, like pitbulls, would not be allowed. Service dogs are also not allowed in areas where food is being prepared.

The school boards have policies in place for staff and visitors as well, which permit the use of service dogs for both.

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