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Therapy dogs added to JR-2 district policy

Teddy, a mini Goldendoodle, is shown doing his job as a therapy dog at South Elementary School. He arrived at the school in 2019. File photo

The Jackson R-2 School Board added therapy dogs to its Animals on District Property board policy during a virtual meeting on Feb. 10.

Therapy animals are to be used by school counselors to help students with their social and emotional needs. The policy had previously only allowed service animals and animals used by law enforcement personnel to be in Jackson schools.

Associate Superintendent Dr. Jessica Maxwell said there are currently therapy dogs at two of the elementary schools – Teddy at South Elementary School and Jersey at West Lane Elementary School.

“The counselors use them frequently in small groups of students, especially those who have experienced trauma or have trouble with social skills,” Maxwell said.

In addition to Teddy and Jersey, a counselor intern at the junior high currently has two therapy dogs. Maxwell said the junior high is currently discussing whether they would like to have a therapy dog on a permanent basis, and there is another counselor who is interested in getting a therapy dog for the middle school.

“We’ve seen a lot of benefits for our students,” Maxwell said. “The research shows that it’s a positive way to approach small groups for those kids.”

In order for a therapy animal to be used at one of the schools, the animal must be housebroken, vaccinated, under the control of its handler at all times, and must be tethered with a harness or leash.

Before permission to use a therapy animal is granted, staff members must provide proof that the animal is certified to be a therapy animal, an explanation of how the animal will be used, a plan for how the staff member will care for the animal and a plan for how the staff member will accommodate students or staff with allergies to the animal.

In other action:

• Director of Finance Terry Gibson announced that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has notified them that the District will receive around $2 million in the latest round of emergency federal funding. Gibson said the District would be able to use the funding for teacher’s salaries.

“That’s really going to help fill the gap from what our shortfall from the state has been because of sales tax and the decrease in the economy,” Gibson said. He added that the District is expected to receive the funding sometime this spring.

• The District held virtual learning on Thursday and Friday’s snow days. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Matt Lacy said this was the first time the District had a virtual learning snow day. He said District administrators worked with principals on Wednesday to go over their virtual learning plans.

“We had a good practice run last March, and we’ve spent the fall tinkering with this,” Lacy said on Wednesday. “We feel like we are ready to do it.” Superintendent Dr. John Link added that the District still has one more snow day for students built into the calendar.

Director of Communications Merideth Pobst said they were able to call 13,000 people last week due to snow day announcements. “That program continues to be a good resource for our district in getting information out to our parents, as well as social media,” Pobst said. “I almost think social media will overtake any other program, but you have to multiple channels of communications.”

• Antigen COVID-19 testing has been opened to all District students. Previously, the testing was only available to secondary students and District staff. “It allows families the opportunity to get tested quickly,” Maxwell said. “It’s gotten students and our staff members back in school.”

District students and staff members who are were close contacts with someone with COVID-19 are able to get tested on their seventh day of quarantine. If they test negative, they can return to school the next day. If they test positive, they are out 10 more days.

Link said they are still waiting on vaccinations for teachers. “They keep putting us off further and further down,” Link said. “It’s now looking like March, possibly April. The bad part of it is that SoutheastHEALTH and Saint Francis are both prepared, ready to go and have what they need to get us done. The governor just won’t let us move to the tier they are on now.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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