Lemon the Duck Banned from Classroom

Superintendent says therapy duck is no longer allowed in classroom after finding feathers in the ventilation system.

At least one popular member of Hathaway Elementary School will not return to the classroom this year.

Lemon the Duck, the well-known Pekin duck born with a neurological condition, will not be housed this year inside the second-grade classroom of Laura Backman.

The superintendent has asked Backman, who is the owner of Lemon and a second-grade teacher, to house the duck outside after discovering feathers in the school's ventilation system. Some of the feathers have traveled to other classrooms, said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Lusi.

"It (the feathers) travels to the other rooms," Lusi said. "We would have no problem with Lemon being at the school, as long as she is kept outside."

According to Lusi, Lemon was housed several years ago in an outdoor pen at Mellville Elementary School due to another teacher's allergy to duck feathers.

At the time, Backman says, she had many opportunities to visit with Lemon and take children out at recess to visit. At Hathaway, that is simply not the case.

"I'm happy they are willing to have her outside, but that's not good enough," Backman said. "They don't understand the positives of having her in the classroom."

Lemon the Duck is not a classroom pet, but a pet-assisted therapy duck who has become an active part of the classroom curriculum, according to the second-grade teacher.

Lemon uses a stroller with wheels to move around. Her neurological condition, which is similar to cerebral palsy, makes it difficult for the duck to balance and lift her neck. She also experiences neck spasms.

The Pekin duck helps children build self-esteem and an understanding of others with disabilities, says Backman, who is certified in professional pet-assisted therapy through the Community College of Rhode Island.

Children also develop literacy skills by reading to the four-year-old duck, as well as writing about their feathery friend in journals.

"Lemon was the most popular subject written about in their journals last year," Backman said.

The students also read from "Lemon the Duck," the book written by Backman in 2006 not long after Lemon was hatched at Hathaway Elementary School. The book is dedicated to Backman's late father, Richard Backman, who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years. 

In 2009, Lemon's work with children earned her owner a Special Education Recognition Award.

The teacher has now offered to pay for screening or building modifications to prevent the feathers spreading in order to keep Lemon in her class.

"I'm not trying to make waves," said Laura Backman. "I understand there are allergies, but I'm willing to pay for any modifications."

Backman bathes the duck every day, she says, as well as vacuums the classroom.

"She's very clean," she says. "For the kids, if she stays outside, they will miss the learning opportunity. It's difficult to understand the benefits unless you are with her all the time."

Support for Lemon seems to be pouring in. Backman has received e-mails and letters from all over, including letters from the Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association and parents of former students.

Letters are also being sent to the superintendent of schools.

"I was not trying to cause any trouble," Backman said. "I was just trying to get people to understand ... I respectfully disagree with the decision that's been made."

Backman, a teacher for eight years, says she will "try to manage" this school year with Lemon housed outside, but she is unsure what will be done exactly.

The first day of school at Hathaway is Sept. 1. One thing is for certain, with the showing of support in letters, Lemon will be missed this school year.

Further information about Lemon, Backman and the "Lemon the Duck" book can be found by clicking here.

Becka Aslagtry August 31, 2010 at 08:14 PM
To Whom it may Concern at Hathaway Elementary School System; Please consider alternatives that would allow Lemon to remain in Laura's classroom because of the huge educational advantage that would be reduced if Lemon was to be placed outside. Out of sight is out of mind. So much is missed in the hours away from the classroom animals. Little things like a ducky yawn that may never be witnessed when Lemon is outside stimulate learning in ways that cannot be achieved from other classroom tools, and certainly there is no greater excitement than watching a hen lay her egg in person. Lemon gives the students and their families so much more than a boost in their science, arithmetic, language, art, and social study skills. When spending time day in and day out with an animal; especially a disabled one, children learn social skills, empathy, and a respect for life. The unconditional love of an animal touches the hearts of children who struggle themselves from many problems including disabilities, family troubles, and family financial troubles. She brings hope to many and a desire to learn. I'd bet Laura's classroom has a higher attendance record than any other! I'd also bet that the kids testing skills are higher than classrooms without animals. Again, please find a way to keep Lemon inside. Thanks, Becka
Don Mosher September 03, 2010 at 11:51 PM
Lorraine I don't remember saying my son had a positive experience or that Lemon was an asset to his classroom. If I did, it was before I realized how terrible the situation with Lemon in the classroom really was. Too much time was wasted in that classroom around Lemon. She was a distraction in the classroom to both Mrs. Backman and the children. I also think she is a health issue. I don't think she belongs in the classroom on a daily basis. I am willing to compromise however. I am willing to see Lemon in the classroom twice a month for just a few hours in the afternoon. This would allow the students to have an opportunity to learn from Lemon and her disability. In short - No Daily Duck, Yes to Limited Lemon.
meeka November 04, 2010 at 09:59 AM
I have read all of these comments. How anyone could not see the benifits of having this beautiful animal in the classroom is beyond me. My children are all grown up, but if they were still in school I would have loved for them to be in the classroom with Lemon. It is sad so many people are blinded to the meaning of the learning experience Lemon provides. What a child would gain by having her in the classroom is far more valuble than any mandatory schedule of learning. However, I'm sure they are learning whatever is required of them. Mrs. Backman, I aplaud you! A teacher like you may come once in a lifetime. I'm sorry, there is no other way to put this: The people that do not want Lemon in the classroom are totally wrong! Open your eyes to the fact that this is a special teacher that you should feel privileged to have her teaching your child! When my grandchildren start school, I hope they will have the opportunity to be in a classroom with a teacher like Mrs. Beckman. I believe in you Mrs. Beckman, and I believe in Lemon! Bless you both!
Michelle S. March 04, 2011 at 06:13 PM
I know I'm late in the conversation, but I just stumbled across this article. Ms. Backman is a wonderful teacher! My daughter loves her and Lemon. From my personal observations, I have never seen Lemon as a distraction, only as an asset (I've never seen her carried all day like a baby, nor is she allowed free reign in the classroom). Ms. Backman gives individual attention and instruction to each student. That's not an easy task (with or without a duck). I'm thankful my child has such a caring, loving, supportive teacher. Please don't be so quick to judge. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I just wonder how many dissenters actually went to the classroom to observe or to talk to Ms. Backman to see what goes on in there. I was pleasantly surprised. Laura Backman has our full support and I only hope that my younger daughter is assigned to her class as well.
John smith August 08, 2012 at 01:38 PM
It never fails. There is an asshole in every crowd. Mind your own business you jerk !!!


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