If your child has a favorite classroom pet – a hamster, a lizard, a goldfish – you may have heard of the animal’s sudden disappearance after winter break or you may hear of its soon-to-come disappearance.
But while you’re dealing with a bout of childhood angst, think of the relief it will provide Durango School District 9-R custodians who – given holiday breaks, long weekends and in-service days – often end up, by default, as the animals’ guardians and providers of last resort.
The Durango School District this year is enforcing an existing but-rarely-used policy that limits animals in the classroom to only study units, for example, bringing in a lizard temporarily during a geography lesson on deserts.
“We have a number of classroom pets, and it does present some challenges,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger told Durango school board members this week during a special meeting and work session.
Beyond the added workload for custodians, Snowberger said it is only a matter of time before a student with an allergy encounters an animal that produces a reaction.
Snowberger said winter break presented the perfect time to begin enforcing existing policy, and principals of schools were tasked with finding homes for classroom pets and having them off school grounds by the end of the month.
Each school presents different degrees of exposure to the problem, Snowberger said. Some schools have nary a bird nor fish present, but others might be able to muster a small petting zoo during recess.
“Given the safety and liability concerns, we believe the safest course of action is to enforce existing policy,” Snowberger said. He added that revisiting the policy to see if it could be tweaked to provide some flexibility could be an avenue to pursue.
School board member Nancy Stubbs, a former elementary school teacher, expressed a sense of loss but recognized that health and safety concerns should take precedence over the learning of responsibility, care and emotional bonds of compassion and empathy that having animals in the classroom can build.
Limits on homemade foodAnother 9-R policy now being enforced limits bake sales and other fundraising enterprises that rely on homemade food during lunches or breakfasts at schools.
On 9-R campuses, during breakfast and lunch, only approved meals prepared in school cafeterias or federally approved, pre-packaged and labeled offerings are allowed.
“It’s really hard for fundraising for all the different clubs,” said William Lammons, an 11th-grader at Durango High School and a student representative to the board of education.
Federal rules under the National School Lunch Program prevent competition from providers that don’t serve nutritionally complete and balanced foods, Snowberger said. Additionally, schools must clear an audit every three years to maintain eligibility for the federal funds.
Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, he said, also presents an unusual complicating factor in assuring home-baked goodies comply with federal standards.
Snowberger said the district has looked at dropping the federal lunch program. However, the district discovered the free and reduced-priced school meals are often the only nutritious meals some of the district’s poorest students receive during the day.
Currently, he said the district does not have the finances to replace the federal funds with a similar food program of its own.