[Updated to include comments from School Board meeting.]
A horse is a horse, of course, of course. But only those of the miniature variety would be allowed in the halls of Arlington Public Schools facilities under a proposal that went to the School Board last week.
A new policy defining the rights and responsibility of those – students, staff or visitors – wishing to bring service animals into schools would allow for dogs and miniature horses.
The former are not so uncommon. The latter, not so much; schools spokesman Frank Bellavia told the Sun Gazette there are no miniature horses used as service animals in the school system at the moment. The Arlington Career Center does have one as part of its menagerie kept by the animal-science department.
Under the proposed policy, aimed at bringing the school district in line with federal and state law, miniature horses would be allowed to assist individuals with disabilities, so long as the animal is housebroken; if the handler is able to control the horse; if the size of the horse can be accommodated in a specific facility; and whether the presence of a horse would result in “legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation.”
The owner or handler of a service animal (dog or horse) would be responsible for any damage to school property or injury to individuals, according to the draft policy. The service animals would not be charged admission fees to school-sponsored events where fees are charged.
The proposal was brought to School Board members for information on May 17, with action likely in coming weeks.
But that May 17 briefing resulted in a potential a hiccup when School Board member Nancy Van Doren requested that the package be sent back for further review by the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee.
“They have contacted board members, saying this is not in accordance with law,” Van Doren said. “They feel very strongly that we are creating hurdles and barriers.”
School staff said the proposal had been delivered for review to the advisory commission in January, and that its concerns had been taken into account. Van Doren wanted more outreach.
“Go back to the community,” she said. “Talk with those students and their families to make sure everybody is on the same page.”
Whatever specific concerns there might be were not enunciated, as no community members spoke at the public hearing on the plan.