More than 1,200 parents sign petition to bring therapy dog back to Bucks County elementary school

BENSALEM, Pa. (CBS) — More than 1,200 parents have signed a petition to bring a beloved therapy dog back to the classroom. They say school leaders cut the program on the third day of school for liability reasons.

Parents say the decision was made without notice after two very successful years of having Phantom inside Belmont Hills Elementary School on a part-time basis.

While a day at the playground is right up most kids’ alley, school on the other hand can bring mixed emotions.

“It just scared me having a large group of people near me,” sixth grader Kylee Wenig said.

It’s why post-COVID-19, Bensalem School District enlisted the help of therapy dogs like Phantom to help make learning a bit easier.

Kylee says this furry classmate was such an important part of the day that she drew Phantom for the cover of last year’s yearbook.

“Because all the kids love her and stuff and how it makes them feel,” Kylee said.

And that’s not all.

“She’s so important that she’s in the book,” Kylee said.

It’s why when parents say they were suddenly notified two days into this school year the therapy dogs program was being stopped districtwide.

“The explanation was for liability reasons, that was it,” parent Abby Koss said.

They created a petition to ask the school board to reconsider that decision, saying with no known incidents and parents willing to sign waivers, a solution is possible.

“This is something that hospitals have figured out how to do,” parent Tarra Donnelly said. “Senior centers have therapy dogs.”

Donnelly says her son Jackson, who has special needs, was devastated to learn Phantom wouldn’t be in school.

“It’s very heartbreaking,” Donnelly said. “Jackson has not been handling it very well.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Bensalem School District says having full-time dogs in the classroom “presents a myriad of concerns including allergies of some students, possible animal aggression, sanitation, or adverse physical and or emotional reaction by either students or adults.”

For now, these parents and students say they’re not giving up on getting Phantom back.

“She’s very important, she helped out a lot of kids,” Kylee said.

The next school board meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 28. Parents say they are planning to ask school leaders to reconsider the decision at that time.

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