A Rosedale, California high school has welcomed a new pet into the classroom: a squirrel. CJ Addington, a physics teacher, caught a baby squirrel that some students spotted outside the school.

I have some (just a few) issues with this:

  • In most areas, catching and keeping wildlife is illegal, for good reason.
  • A baby squirrel wandering around outside is not necessarily an orphan that needs saving. There’s a good chance this squirrel will die now that it’s been taken from its habitat.
  • I doubt the teacher has a wildlife rehab license and knows how to take care of the squirrel.
  • The teacher wants to "take care of it until it’s a full grown squirrel and ready to go back in its habitat." Releasing an animal that has been hand-raised in captivity back into the wild is likely going to result in a quick death, and that’s completely unethical.
  • I have a hard time figuring out how to incorporate a pet squirrel into a physics curriculum.
  • The teacher says "The administration did not have any disputes about having the squirrel." The administration, therefore, is clueless about a host of issues, including capture and care of wildlife and CDC recommendations against having wild animals in situations like this.
  • Mr. Addington also said, "It is too young of a squirrel to be carrying anything, so I didn’t have to vaccinate it or anything like that." Uh…no. This squirrel could be carrying a wide range of pathogens, including rabies. The number of people that have been exposed to rabies through handling baby wildlife is astounding.
  • "It’s cool to have a squirrel that freaks out at random points of class" said one student. That certainly sounds like a healthy, stress-free animal that is thriving in its environment (note the sarcasm here). Also, it shows how it’s a potential classroom disruption.

Pets can be useful additions to classrooms in specific and well-controlled situations. Things to consider when deciding if an animal is reasonable to have in a classroom include:

  • Are there any school rules that cover this?
  • Are there any students that are at increased risk of infection because they have compromised immune systems? (Part 2 of that question is "If no, are you SURE that you would know if there was an immunocompromised child in the class?)
  • Are there any students who are afraid of the animal? (Part 2: are you sure? applies here too).
  • Are there any students who might be allergic to the animal? (Part 2 again…)
  • Is there an educational value, or is it just a novelty?
  • Will children eat in the same room as the animal?
  • Can the animal be kept safely and in a humane manner?
  • Who will care for the animal on weekends and holidays?
  • What happens if the animal gets sick?
  • Will protocols be established before the animal arrives, covering the above plus other issues, such as who will have access to the animal, how it will be handled, what type of hygiene practices will be used, etc?

The list goes on. Clearly, having an animal in a classroom is something that requires a lot of thought, time and work. It is possible for animals to be valuable teaching tools in a classroom, as part of the curriculum, as well as providing entertainment and increased empathy towards other species. It’s also possible for animals to expose people to serious infectious diseases, to be distracting and to disturb the education of individual students or whole classes.

Wildlife should never be classroom pets.

(click image for source)