STARKVILLE — Tuesday night, the Starkville school board approved the use of a dog at Sudduth Elementary for pet therapy. Sudduth Principal Lisa Thompson bought the dog, a Bichon Frise named BJ, that will be trained and evaluated for temperament and safety.
“This is clearly the most interesting thing on the agenda,” Board President Keith Coble said when he came to this approval request.
BJ will belong to Thompson but be used in the school by Sudduth”s two counselors, the librarian and administrators. The dog has already visited the school to begin to get familiar with its surroundings before children arrive.
“A therapy dog”s main purpose it to bring a smile to someone or brighten their day,” Thompson said in her letter requesting board permission to introduce this means of therapy to the K-2 school. “BJ will be used to provide love and comfort to students based on the recommendation of the counselors.”
Thompson will collect data to determine if the use of pet therapy will cut down on absences and officer referrals and improve grades and classroom behavior in students who work with the dog.
Thompson said the Bichon is one of two breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club for use in pet therapy. Rather than fur, Bichon have hair, which makes them hypoallergenic and safe to be around children with allergies. Because of their small size, they do not pose a physical threat to children.
The board gladly approved the use of BJ as a therapy dog for Sudduth on Pickett Wilson”s motion and Eric Heiselt”s second. In her proposal, Thompson suggested she may purchase a second dog with other funds to also be used in pet therapy at the school.
In other business, the board voted to try a third meeting space in about a month. Previously, the board moved their regular meeting from the 40-person capacity board room to the Greensboro Center auditorium that seats a few hundred. When less than 10 people attended each of the two meetings held there, they reconsidered their meeting space.
“This is less than ideal for the board, administration and staff,” Wilson said of the auditorium. “We can”t see each other, we can”t hear each other, and it”s hard to see our computer screens.”
She said the large space also didn”t provide the privacy required of closed sessions.
“I think we had a real good idea,” Heiselt said while acknowledging that it did not work as planned. “We need to make sure there is plenty of room for the public.”
Coble proposed a compromise of sorts when he suggested that if administration has reason to think large numbers of the pubic want to attend a meeting, it be moved to the auditorium. On other occasions, it be left in a smaller room that accommodates all the members of the public who may want to attend.
On Heiselt”s motion and Wilson”s second, the board voted to meet across the hall from their old boardroom in a meeting space that seats 67 members of the public. Previously, only 28 members of the public could attend a board meeting at any one time.
The first meeting in the larger room across the hallway from the former board room will be Aug. 2.
The board had to postpone budget approval Tuesday night, but set another meeting date for July 12 so they can handle this item of business in time to meet July 15 payroll.
The five-member board was short two members. Coble said Eddie Myles was out of town and Lee Brand had a family emergency.
The board had to postpone budget approval because Pickett Wilson has to recuse herself from the vote.
“I do, under the law, have to leave the room because I have a family member employed by the school district,” Wilson said.
With her gone, only two board members would remain, and two is not a quorum needed to conduct business. The board voted instead to remove the budget approval from Tuesday”s agenda and move it to the next special called meeting.
The board went into closed session Tuesday night to discuss personnel issues, pending litigation and a student matter. The board will meet again July 12 at noon in their old meeting room. They will adopt the budget and begin discussions with the Mississippi School Board Association about the superintendent”s search.
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