A new policy in Andover would set guidelines for bringing service animals into schools throughout the district.
The policy, which is being worked on by the School Committee, is titled "Animals in Schools," and is based on state law.
Massachusetts Service Animal law defines a service animal as a dog or a miniature horse "that accompanies an individual with a sensory and or physical disability." Psychiatric service dogs also fall under state law's definition of a service animal. This definition does not include emotional support animals. Service dogs are highly trained animals that perform tasks and services for people with disabilities, and a person with a service animal may bring that animal anywhere in public they would like.
If the School Committee adopts the proposed policy, the superintendent of the district will ensure that student is accommodated throughout his or her school day and while taking the bus.
There are currently no students at Andover High who bring a service animal to class, according to Principal Philip Conrad. No students have requested to bring an emotional support or therapy animal to class either, he said. In fact, Conrad said since he was hired as principal in 2015, no students have requested to bring a service animal to class.
Conrad said he'd work to assist the needs of any students in the future at Andover High, however, possibly including emotional support animals.
"We haven't dealt with it, but I would follow whatever policies are in place and whatever therapeutic documentation the student and family gave us," he said. "We would do whatever we had to do to help that student cope with what they are facing, but we haven't had that happen."
The state policy does not set guidelines for emotional support animals.
"There has been no additional policy discussion about emotional support animals (such as comfort or companion animals) which fall outside of what is considered a service animal under federal or Massachusetts law," explained School Committee Chairwoman Shannon Scully in an email.
According to Scully, the proposed policy does include guidelines for times when animals may be brought into the school for academic programs, such as traveling programs offered through the Museum of Science and New England Aquarium. The policy also outlines that any animal to be brought in to the school will need to be approved by the principal.
The policy prioritizes student health, however, and outlines that if an animal will cause a student to have an allergic reaction it must be removed.
"No animals may be brought to school or kept in the school, classroom, office or common area that may negatively impact the health of any student who must utilize that area," the policy reads. "Animals that cause an allergic reaction or impair the health of students shall be removed from the school immediately so that no student shall have his/her health impaired."
Animals have come to Andover High for academic programs in health and science classes, according to Conrad. At a school Conrad previously worked at, he said an animal was also brought in as part of a theatrical production.
However, out of concern for rabies and other dangers, the policy prohibits wild animals, furry animals like cats, and poisonous animals.
The committee will hold a second reading and may vote on the policy Aug. 30.
"We welcome all feedback on the policy drafts and encourage the community to weigh in, either at our meetings or in advance," Scully said.
Follow Kelsey Bode on Twitter @Kelsey_Bode.