D.C. tries to boot animals from classrooms

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Photo - The D.C. Department of Health told an elementary school that it must remove its pet lizards, frogs and other creatures. (Getty Images)
The D.C. Department of Health told an elementary school that it must remove its pet lizards, frogs and other creatures. (Getty Images)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District government threatened to seize animals from elementary school classrooms in Northeast Washington, prompting outrage from DC Public Schools and emergency legislation by a city lawmaker.

In a Sept. 5 letter obtained by The Washington Examiner, the D.C. Department of Health told the principal of Miner Elementary School she had to remove eight species -- including frogs, tapdoles and chameleons -- from classrooms immediately.

The agency warned it would search the school for illegal animals and cautioned, "Any animals that are prohibited in the District of Columbia will be seized."

Expelled animals
The D.C. Department of Health has ordered Miner Elementary School to remove from its classrooms
-- 12 tadpoles
-- Six bearded dragons
-- Six toads
-- Four geckos
-- Three scorpions
-- Two chamelons
-- Two tarantulas
-- Two frogs

The department began reviewing the school's pet inventory after a classroom guinea pig died in July, and the agency ultimately decided 37 animals at Miner didn't comply with a city law that places restrictions on animal possession.

"The bearded dragons, geckos, scorpions, chameleons, tarantulas, frogs, toads and tadpoles are illegal and must be removed from the District of Columbia immediately," the agency wrote.

Melissa Salmanowitz, a spokeswoman for DCPS, said the system was rejecting the health department's demands about Miner, which is in the Kingman Park neighborhood.

"These animals are integral to the indoor and outdoor learning environments at Miner," Salmanowitz said. "We have no plans to remove the animals from Miner and deprive students of these unique learning opportunities."

The health department didn't respond to a request for comment, but mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said the episode was a misunderstanding.

"We will get the Department of Health and DC Public Schools on the same page," Ribeiro said.

Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells blasted the department, though, and said he would introduce emergency legislation to allow schools to keep such pets in the future.

"These are animals that we've found in American classrooms since we began public education, whether it be a classroom rabbit or a lizard," Wells said in an interview with The Examiner. "It is absurd because live animals have always been part of a teaching experience in schools across America."

Wells said he was "frustrated that we have to spend any amount of time on something as basic as classroom teaching aids so children learn how tadpoles become frogs."

Examiner Staff Writer Lisa Gartner contributed to this report.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner