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CO Press: Teachers' pets, agencies' peeve

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Mon Sep 22 13:20:40 2003  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  
   

DENVER POST (Colorado) 21 September 03 Teachers' pets, agencies' peeve - EPA, health departments urging schools to ban or limit use of animals in classrooms (Monte Whaley)
Creatures dwell in nearly every corner of Patti Bleil's classroom in Boulder, from Freddie the hognosed snake to Kazool the green water dragon.
Evicting them - as well as the class's horned frogs, domestic rats, crayfish, land snails and red slider turtles - would make learning a lot less interesting, Bleil's students say.
"We observe them, pretty much for scientific purposes," said 10-year-old Kenna Tuggle, a fifth-grader at Community Montessori Elementary School.
"If we didn't have animals like these in our classroom, I don't know where these kids would see anything like them," Bleil said.
But across the country, including in Colorado, health organizations are urging schools to ban many animals from classrooms or limit their use because of environmental and medical concerns.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says animals can cause air quality woes and trigger asthma and allergic reactions in kids.
Furry mammals such as gerbils and mice are the worst culprits, said Erin Collard, EPA asthma coordinator for the Colorado region.
"For the most part, we recommend you don't have those types of pets in the classroom," Collard said.
More than 5 million children under 18 suffer from asthma in the United States, and the numbers are steadily rising, she said.
The Palm Beach County, Fla., health department recommended after a 2001 study of school air quality that schools ban pets, according to Education Week.
Palm Beach officials said some classrooms did poor jobs of cleaning up after pets and maintaining them as well. One school kept emus and prairie dogs in an outside courtyard near an air-conditioning system. The waste from the animals contaminated the school's air supply.
The Humane Society of Missouri refuses to let teachers adopt pets for classrooms after seeing hundreds of classroom pets left without homes at the end of the school year, Education Week said.
Colorado schools generally take good care of their classroom pets while taking precautions that shield allergic students from exposure, local officials say.
As many as 60 percent of the classrooms in the Denver Public Schools have animals of some sort, including hamsters, rabbits, snakes and reptiles, said Joni Rix, DPS environmental specialist.
They have not generated any complaints from parents or students, but some teachers have been asked to spend more time cleaning up after animals and to keep them confined to one area, Rix said.
"Some teachers are definitely better at it than others," she said.
The Denver Dumb Friends League favors using animals as part of a well-constructed curriculum, league spokeswoman Judy Calhoun said.
But each animal must be appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students, while the teacher must be ultimately responsible for their care, she said.
"Kids get a lot out of having pets in the classroom when it's handled correctly," Calhoun said. "But when it's not, it sends a different message."
Still, her group has never fielded a complaint about animal mistreatment in a classroom, she said.
Cats, hamsters and other furry mammals are banned from any of the classrooms at the Kunsberg School at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, said Michelle Freas, coordinator of medical and health services at the school.
That's because many of the students at the school suffer from asthma, and the grooming done by the animals can set off an attack, Freas said.
Otherwise, lizards, fish and frogs are allowed for study. "The whole idea in the classroom is teaching them responsibility about caring for animals," she said.
The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in Bleil's Boulder classroom are quick to point out that the animals there are not for play.
"These are not pets," said 10- year-old Marisa Ishikawa. "This is not what these animals are for."
Each student keeps a detailed chart of an animal's behavior, feeding habits and history.
Many of the students and Bleil are responsible for feeding the creatures, and Bleil comes on weekends, over vacations and breaks in the school schedule to care for them.
Some of the animals also go home with students who prove they can handle the responsibility, she said.
"This is a huge commitment," Bleil said, "and my students have to show they are ready and prepared to do so.
"Bottom line is that it all comes down to a respect for life."
Teachers' pets, agencies' peeve


   

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