SHS students say dog-days are just what they need
Petition draws more than 1,400 to return therapy dogs to class for anxiety relief
A student holds up therapy dog Sage’s head as she wakes up from a nap in Jennifer Buckley’s Spanish class. The dog is trained to interact safely with kids, and was recently removed from class for to a policy review.
SNOHOMISH — Ethan Martez was looking forward to a finals-week with a therapy dog at his side, but a policy problem led to the dog being ousted.
Snohomish School District pulled two dogs from classrooms at Snohomish High School: Sage and Winnie.
Martez fought for Sage’s return, using the tools he will later use as a Future Business Leader of America: he is an officer for both FBLA and DECA, at Snohomish High School.
Until then, Martez is honing his leadership skills by presenting data to support his request to get a stress relieving dog back in the room.
Martez has test anxiety, and he said the dog’s presence has helped him and other students.
The district says the decision to remove the dog was rule-based.
Kristin Foley, communications director for the district, said two therapy dogs are under review for SHS attendance. That process is expected to be complete early this week.
“Upon initial review, we were not satisfied that these dogs met the requirements. As a district, we will be re-initiating the process to further review each of these cases in more depth using the district policy and OSPI guidelines as further guidance,” Foley said.
Martez said the dog does not bark and is well-trained and obedient to its owner, SHS Spanish teacher Jennifer Buckley.
“Having a dog there makes life better for high school students,” he said. “Everyone felt it was helping them with stress and helping them relieve stress.”
Sage has been accompanying Buckley on Fridays for about two years and has her own SHS student-badge. The Golden Retriever visits on Fridays, because it’s a short day and it’s when the end of the week stress-buildup hits.
Buckley said she always plans ahead, kicking off the school year with a Sage-focused permission slip that is included in her class syllabus, per district policy. It asks if students have any serious allergies to dogs, and if they are comfortable having Sage in the room.
“We haven’t had any issues,” Buckley said.
District policy requires health issues including allergies and anxiety of both staff and students be addressed prior to a dog’s entry. The permission slips address both.
Foley said the district has to balance “the needs of others in the school environment.”
Martez said “The policy contradicts what they’re saying, because it says they’re allowed to be on campus.”
He wanted to show student support for Sage, so he created an online petition that drew nearly 1,350 signatures by late last week.
“What the youth are saying is that they want Sage back, and they want to figure out why he left,” said Riley Yeoman, Associated Student Body president and Youth Council member.
Yeoman got involved out of a sense of responsibility to the student body. He said he is concerned anytime there is an issue around mental health and students. He assisted by informing the full Youth Council of the petition, and by spreading the word so students could weigh in.
“Our country has a very big problem (with teen anxiety), and when I saw that they were getting stressed, I saw that as a mission,” he said. Sage “calms kids down and there’s scientific research that dogs calm kids down, and when I saw that loss, I was kind of mad at the district.”
Both Yeoman and Martez scheduled interviews and were ready with evidence of student support. Their methods were measured, logical and well-prepared.
“We can get our message across and not be disrespectful while doing it because I feel like they kind of look down on us in a lot of ways, because we’re not as old -- ya know?” Yeoman said. “I think we know if we’re going to get anything changed we have to be calm about it.”
Jason Sanders, Snohomish City Council President, has worked with the Youth Council and watched their actions. They run efficient meetings, and they are “driven, engaged and passionate.”
“They’re really special,” he said of Snohomish student leaders. He said he is sure the district had its reasons for removing the dog for now, and was not willing to weigh in on that part of it. “I’m sure they’re not trying to be mean.”
The stress relief for students is key, to Buckley. She mentioned the suicide rate for kids is at an “all time high” and teens “have a lot of social pressures.”
She was impressed but not surprised when she found out students were taking the lead on getting Sage back to SHS.
She said SHS has a strong group of student leaders versed in how public meetings work, and how to issue a complaint with a public agency, when they want something changed.
“They have taken this on, on their own,” Buckley said. “I had no idea about the petition until 24 hours after it started, and it already had 500 signatures on it.”
As of now, the SHS student body will still be without the calming presence of therapy dogs, and the timeline for a final decision is not yet known.
“I’m still optimistic,” Buckley said. “I think what the kids are doing will impact the district’s decision.”
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