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Lending a helping hand ... or paw

COTTAGE GROVE — South Washington County Schools are looking at ways for disabled students to get a little help from the animal kingdom.

During Thursday's School Board meeting, policy was discussed that would allow service animals to be used at District 833 schools.

"We have not had a formal policy ... on service animals," said Superintendent Keith Jacobus. "And now we are having more students that may have that ability to bring service animals so we wanted to bring a policy forward."

Service animals are trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. The proposed policy is not intended to cover therapy animals, which help with treatment for social, emotional or cognitive functions

While making the policy, which will be voted on in the Feb. 15 meeting, Director of Special Services Michelle Barries said she reached out to several school districts to see what existing plans were out there for service animals. Many schools, Barries said, did not have anything in place.

"The biggest piece was taking what we had and running it by our legal counsel to make sure we were in compliance with any regulations we needed," Barries added. "If we were to run this by any disability organizations, their biggest thing, too, was making sure there were equal access and that we're not discriminating. I would feel comfortable that based on the language here, that is what we're saying we'll do."

School Board Treasurer Katie Schwartz voiced her support for the policy, citing her son's experience with a therapy animal.

"I know there are a lot of kids who use service animals for their needs and it helps them get through the day," Schwartz said "And whatever we can do to help with that is great."

Notes

• Coordinator of Educational Equity and Integration Kristine Schaefer reviewed the Achievement and Integration budget for 2017-18 and proposed shifts in the budget for 2018-19. With a revised budget of $2,751,542 in 2017-18, the proposed budget for 2018-19 sits at $2,728,723.

"What we're considering is not changing any of those strategies, but shifting some of the funding," Schaefer said.

Jacobus added, "The goal of these dollars are to close the gaps and to serve traditionally under-served (students)."

The percentage of the proposed budget remained steady, with 80.61 percent allocated to direct student services, 9.65 to professional development and 9.74 to administration.

The Achievement and Integration budget will have a vote on Feb. 15.

• The American Indian Parent Advisory Committee issued a vote of concurrence that District 833 was meeting the needs of Native American students.

• The meeting lasted 1 hour, 41 minutes and had no members absent. The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at the District Service Center in Cottage Grove.

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