Snohomish High School students Ethan Martez, 16 (from left), Deanna Westerinen, 16, and ASB President Riley Yeoman, 18, meet Wednesday to talk about Sage, their Spanish teacher’s therapy dog. The much-loved 5-year-old golden retriever has been banned from class after attending for years. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Snohomish High School students Ethan Martez, 16 (from left), Deanna Westerinen, 16, and ASB President Riley Yeoman, 18, meet Wednesday to talk about Sage, their Spanish teacher’s therapy dog. The much-loved 5-year-old golden retriever has been banned from class after attending for years. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Teachers’ dogs kicked out of classes at Snohomish High School

Students launch a petition drive to keep canine pals, including one therapy pup with a staff ID tag.

You might say Sage has been a teacher’s pet. These days, though, the golden retriever has been absent from Snohomish High School.

The Snohomish School District has decided Sage is no longer allowed in Spanish teacher Jennifer Buckley’s classroom on Fridays. The change also affects Snohomish High teacher Kaitlin Savage, who on Fridays has brought her dog Winston, or “Winnie,” to English class.

Buckley, 5-year-old Sage’s owner, said the therapy dog was evaluated through Reading with Rover, and certified by the HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response program. For years — equipped with a “Therapy Dog” harness and Snohomish High staff ID — Sage has been a buddy and stress reliever on a day students often take quizzes.

District spokeswoman Kristin Foley offered no specific complaint that brought on the change. By email earlier this week, she cited district policy and state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction guidelines as the impetus for the ban.

Students aren’t taking no for an answer.

“There has never been a problem before and Sage does help students with stress,” wrote Snohomish High sophomore Ethan Martez in an online petition effort to bring the dogs back to class. “Sign the petition so we can let the district know we want Sage back,” the 16-year-old wrote on the change.org website.

By midday Thursday, there were 1,345 signers of the petition, titled “Allow Señora Buckley and Mrs. Savage to bring their dogs Sage and Winnie to school.”

“Late last week, the district met with two teachers at Snohomish High School to review their request to have their dogs in their classrooms on Fridays,” Foley said in an email Tuesday. “As a district, we follow our district policy,” she wrote, “as well as the OSPI guidelines.” The email noted that district policy 2260, “Animals in Schools and Buildings,” and related OSPI guidelines were attached.

Late Thursday afternoon, Foley added by email: “We were recently questioned whether the dogs met the criteria of the Board policy, and upon initial review late last week, we were not satisfied that these dogs met the requirements. However, we have re-initiated the process to further review both cases in more depth using the district policy as further guidance.”

At Snohomish High School, golden retriever Sage Buckley has worn staff ID while in class with her owner, Spanish teacher Jennifer Buckley.

At Snohomish High School, golden retriever Sage Buckley has worn staff ID while in class with her owner, Spanish teacher Jennifer Buckley.

The Spanish teacher said another meeting happened Wednesday. “Sage is still not allowed,” Buckley said by email. “Basically they’re saying that the purpose for Sage being on campus does not meet the district criteria for her to be there.” She added that Snohomish High Principal Eric Cahan may come to her classes next week to talk with students about the issue. Cahan declined to comment for this article.

Along with vaccinations, training and leash requirements, according to district policy, animals may only be in Snohomish schools as service or therapy dogs, or as part of an instructional program. The policy, adopted in 2011, lists as reference an “Animals in school facilities” section of the Washington Administrative Code.

Students who’ve been in Buckley’s Spanish classes talked Wednesday about Sage as a positive presence.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people,” said Riley Yeoman, an 18-year-old senior and the school’s ASB president. “Having Sage there on Friday, you walk in and see her lying there, it lowers your heart rate.”

Dogs are now in many places where in the past they were a rarity.

Pet Partners, formerly the Delta Society, brings therapy animals to visit hospital patients, seniors with memory issues, and veterans coping with post-traumatic stress. Reading with Rover in libraries helps small children with literacy. At the Snohomish County Courthouse, a golden-retriever-Labrador mix named Lucy has been a calming friend helping people through the legal process.

As ASB president, Yeoman said he’s been focused on mental health and ways to ease anxiety on campus. He knows from his two cats, Big Mama and Leo, how animals can be “a real comfort.”

Deanna Westerinen, 16, is a former student of Buckley’s who loved having Sage in class. “It was always a lot of fun, and helped with the stress of quizzes on Fridays,” said the junior, who doesn’t have pets at home.

Martez said his Spanish teacher sent home forms to be signed by parents at the beginning of the year, informing them that her dog would be in class and asking if there were concerns.

The teens don’t think district leaders have given a good enough explanation for banning the dogs, especially after allowing them for years. “Whatever happens, we want the district to be more consistent,” Yeoman said. “They haven’t been good at communicating,” Martez agreed.

Their dog fight isn’t over. Martez plans to speak out during the Snohomish School Board’s Feb. 12 meeting.

“Maybe they don’t remember how stressful high school is,” Yeoman said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Students’ dog fight

Learn more about Snohomish High School students’ efforts to keep teachers’ dogs in classes, including a petition drive, on the Facebook page titled #FreeSage and #FreeWinnie.

State OSPI guidelines related to service animals are online:

www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/equity/pubdocs/prohibitingdiscriminationinpublicschools.pdf#page=21

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