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.