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.

Sandy McGee (Editor) August 28, 2010 at 07:45 PM
I want to thank everyone for their insightful comments on this issue and contributing to the conversation. I do want to remind readers to please be respectful to others when commenting. Thank-you.
Voice of Reason August 28, 2010 at 08:09 PM
Fact: Backman was told by Dr Lusi to leave the duck home-She should honor that request Fact: People have alleries to duck feathers Fact: Backman has done a great job caring for Lemon Fact; Parents have complained about Lemon in the class Fact: lessons have been interupted due to Backman's caring for Lemon Fact: Backman carries Lemon around like an infant - what will happen if she suddenly needs to attend to a actual student Fact: No one here is saying anything negative about anyone or anything with disabilities - people are reading wayyy too much in it Fact: Children mature with age = learning compassion as they grow (animals in the class do not make a diff.) Fact: People aren't using their real names because we live in a small town (talk about awkward!!) Fact: No One has been able to produce any evidence (actual facts) that backs up having Lemon in the classroom is beneficial Fact: We're not getting funding from the state, one disgruntled parent calls the RI Dept of Ed, and Dr Lusi will have a crap storm that she really doesn't need. Politics 101 (Susan Lewis, you may want to let your husband know about that one). Fact: Laura Dennis, look up the state laws about a school building curriculum. I'll help out you - not allowed. Bottom-line, many of the posters here have an emotional tie to Lemon and that situation. Many have taken it too personal & it didn't need to go there. Yeah, I know who most you are and I don't care. I am entitled my my Voice (of Reason)
LLMontgomery August 28, 2010 at 08:54 PM
I couldn't have said it better, and totally agree. What better way to educate the children about how to care for an animal and learn about disabilties that can be overcome, accepted, and how to help the animal survive living a full life rather than dismissed as hopeless, one that can bring so much joy to so many, not only to the children in the class, but she also reaches out to others with her story. A duck is not an unclean animal, taken care of properly, as Lemon is, and is not a health hazard. To have Laura Backman as a teacher is a blessing to any child, and adding Lemon is a whole new dimension to the inspiration of learning. I wish I and my children had been able to have such and enriching experience as to have been in Laura's class with Lemon. I think Lemon and Laura are exceptions and Lemon should be allowed in the classroom on a regular basis. There are many lessons to be learned from ducks, I've learned through my years of having them as pets and from the wild ones that take up with us, and the more questions answered and learned, the more questions there are to seek answers for, including the other animal species. Education in any form of nature is an enrichment, which children need more than ever these days.
Priscilla Smyth Thayer August 28, 2010 at 08:55 PM
Fact: This is not about Mrs. Backman's job performance. This is about feathers in the vents. Fact: It is a small town and everyone talks-so what. Fact: Mrs. Backman checks with the school nurse before school begins to find out any reported allergies. Fact: Lemon has been a part of the education culture and curriculum since 2006. Fact: Lemon was benificial to Hathaway School or she would not have recieved an award from the Newport County Special Education Department this year. Now when it comes to complaints, why didn't anyone say anything to Mrs. Backman, Dr. Martin or Dr. Lusi about classroom concerns during the school year or years past? I'm pretty sure RIDE was well aware of Lemon's presence in the classroom. If you vote and pay your taxes then you have a voice on how your child is educated.
PortsmouthDaddy August 28, 2010 at 09:52 PM
Wow, just getting caught up... First, off can we all check our emotions. People need to put their emotions aside - no need to call another poster out (you're embarrassing yourself for future in person meetings). Second, as many of you noted you contact Dr Lusi and did not get a response. So on the flip side, how can you say someone did not get that same treat when he/she complained? Third, I know people have called me out about mentioning RIDE and Ms. Backman's curriculum. See, I did check into it. In order to teach a class that goes against the standards of RIDE, a teacher must present a written cirriculum to the state and present that to a state board of educators ( I did my homework). If she had done that, I can guarantee that would be documented in this story. Lastly, Lemon appears to be Ms. Backman's main focus. This does take away from the children, and Hathaway school. As an active member of the community, I have spoke to numerous parents that were told glowing things about Ms Backman's previous class..... up to last yr. During 2009-2010, parents were not pleased about the level of effort given by Ms Backman. Do you honestly think this is really just about feathers? Dr Lusi is too much of a professional to comment or bring this disucssion to the public. I know during the end of year survey, I mentioned that I do not feel it's appropriate to have a duck in the classroom.
PortsmouthDaddy August 28, 2010 at 10:02 PM
We does Dr Lusi draw the line? Is it ok to have a teacher bring an infant with disabilites to the classroom? How about a dog, a cat, or lizard? What would happen if a child drop a book (accidently) on Lemon during class? What about the emotional issues of the children then? And how do you think the other children would treat that child? Ms Backman carries Lemon throughout the halls. What would happen if a child feel and slipped on 1 of Lemon's feathers? First off, Ms Backman, would not be able to attend to the child's needs right away as she is carrying Lemon. As someone with medical training, valuable seconds would be taken away from our children's needs. What if there was a child that flat out didn't like animals? He/she could hurt Lemon. Then how is liable? I'm sorry, but I work with numbers, policy, and hard evidence all day long. Therefore, until I see otherwise, I do know from other parents that the level of education provided this past school yr was below the standards Ms Backman had set for herself in the past. I think Ms Backman may have been working in a gray area since 2006. But as we all know, sooner or later the truth comes out. I think the truth was delivered Dr Lusi.
PortsmouthDaddy August 28, 2010 at 10:15 PM
One more thing that I really didn't want to bring up, but it's obvious. And I really don;t want anyone reading in this or misinterrupting it. But we all know that will happen, so I apologize in advance if I offend anyone. If Lemon is so good with children that have disabilities, and seeing as Lemon has recieved awards from the Newport County Special Education Department, then why is Ms Backman and Lemon at Hathway? Meville is the town's school dedicated to children with special needs. Shouldn't they be at Meville? Still think this is only about feathers?
Glen Barry August 28, 2010 at 10:35 PM
I don't have a kid in Ms. Backman's class. Someone please educate me, does the duck wander free around the classroom all day, or in a cage, or carried around? I think that would make a difference on how distracting Lemon is to the classroom. I know that a classroom has kids with all different kinds of learning styles and abilities, including those for whom the duck would be a distraction to their attention capacities when lessons are being given. What about those kids? My kid is in college now, but struggled mightily with serious attention issues in the elementary grades. I have no doubt I would have complained if a cute duck was roaming the classroom while my kid was supposed to be learning math or reading.
Glen Barry August 28, 2010 at 10:37 PM
Reading all these heated comments, I would like to impart a note to Susan Lewis: This is the internet. These comments are accessible to literally billions of people around the world. To convince yourself, google the following: "susan lewis" portsmouth There you are at the top of the search, right here on Portsmouth Patch. This is a comment blog on a local news website. It is not a public school committee meeting, or town council meeting, or official hearing of any kind. If a person wishes voice their opinion, yet remain private for whatever reason, I believe that is their right on the internet. I also believe it does not diminish the validity of that opinion at all. Earnest people of good intent should be able to comment, without revealing personally identifying information to the entire planet. Please accept that.
Priscilla Smyth Thayer August 28, 2010 at 11:32 PM
Lemon is about INCLUSION. This is why she recieved the award...
Tealy August 28, 2010 at 11:45 PM
I'm a past parent, frequent volunteer of Ms. Backman’s, and an educator. I applaud her teaching. My child was eager and motivated to learn every day and Lemon was a big part of that. Lemon was an approved project---with a disability outcome. It should be a joint venture between teacher and school system to take responsibility, not only to teach children important lessons but because it's the right thing to do. Ms. Backman's been proactive with Lemon’s inclusion: specific goals, GLE connections, Vet clearance, professional endorsements, Pet Assisted Therapy training, etc. She's stated that Lemon's a safe way to talk about disabilities every day, to move children beyond empathy, into empowerment and inclusion of the disabled. She carries Lemon like an infant because the duck can’t walk. She doesn’t carry her around all day and doesn’t put Lemon before her students. Hathaway's past administrator supported Lemon’s full inclusion-- Ms. Backman’s teaching is NOT in question. Insinuations otherwise are misguided. Animals are being introduced to the classrooms through K.I.T.E.S. science kits all the time and they too have GLEs connected to them, and are also valuable learning experiences. There have been children with allergies, for which accommodations are made, without bashing the experience or the teacher. There’s another important difference too, these animals are disposed of (killed), once the Portsmouth School System decides their learning value is over.
Susan Lewis August 29, 2010 at 04:07 PM
I am responding to "Voice of Reason"s last comment and I will speak no further on this subject. I do not care if people know who I am because I stand proud behind every opinion I have ever voiced. I do not care if my name is searched on the internet and people read what I have to say on a particular subject as I always say what I mean and I mean what I say. I do not care that this is a small town and whether or not someone knows how I feel about something. Like you... I do not really care what people think about me as long as I can lay my head down at night with a clear conscience. As for your bringing my husband into the fold... we do not tell each other what to say, what to think, and what to do. If you have something to say to him... you are free to tell him yourself as I am not a messenger. If you choose to judge him by my opinions and my actions, I cannot stop you, but you should know that we are not one person sharing one brain. I will tell you that he is not a politician doing or saying things merely for political gain. He is a good man who is intelligent and has much to offer this community. In closing... if you take issue with my voice or my opinions, then please do so with me as I have provided my real name and I am not difficult to locate - you may even know me. If you have a question or comment for or about my husband, please speak with him directly. Until his name appears with his comments on this board you should not include him in this discussion.
Priscilla Smyth Thayer August 29, 2010 at 04:54 PM
I'm with Susan and it won't be awkward or embarrasing to meet with any of the people on this board. We can all agree to disagree...
Lorraine August 29, 2010 at 06:16 PM
Zoo???? It's a handicapped duck, not an elephant!
Lorraine August 29, 2010 at 06:47 PM
To :Voice of Reason I've read all of you comments. You keep giving diggers to other peoples families. YOU also asked "Why are you STUPID PEOPLE debating the issue!!!" Do you realize how silly you sound? This is where people are disscussing this subject. Plus, YOU seem to have posted at least 5 times so far. If you don't want to listen to poeples oppions, then go disscus some thing somewhere else. And, the the way you talk TO and ABOUT people........... It IS a good idea to Hide behind your Voice of Reason.
Don Mosher August 30, 2010 at 12:33 AM
Priscilla , we don't always agree on things. In fact I'm sure of that. But, I do respect your opinion as well as Susan's opinion. I'm not afraid to let people know how I feel about Lemon. She is a distraction to 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. Please read my previous post. Yes, I would meet anyone else on this Blog to talk over this issue face to face.
Priscilla Smyth Thayer August 30, 2010 at 12:58 AM
Hey Don, I've read everyone's posts including yours and I respect everyone's opinion. You are one of the best neighbors and friends we have and again we all should just agree to disagree.
Lorraine August 30, 2010 at 01:22 AM
Don, I have read your posts. They surprise me because have have personally heard you, in the community, praise Ms Backman's class, Lemon and your child's experience in that classroom.
Lorraine August 30, 2010 at 01:40 AM
I agree with Priscilla! Lemon IS about inclusion. And as for Portsmouth daddy, It sounds to me like you want anyone with a special needs to be shipped off to Melville. Does that include students with IEP's too?
Katies Place August 30, 2010 at 05:39 AM
Hello I have read all the posts both good and bad. Our family has been involved in waterfowl rescue and working with urban , domestic and wild ducks and geese for almost 12 years. I deal with the legalities of these birds in all settings from small urban areas to large metropolitan areas. I feel that many things are being overlooked here.. First and foremost is that Lemon was a class project 4.5 yrs ago and has been in the School system since that time.. with no complaints or health issues. Secondly.. feathers in teh Ventilation system SHOULD be there.. that means the system is working and the intakes will pull feathers away from classrooms to the filters.. where they should be .. along with human hair , skin, bacterias, viruses and dog or cat hair and any other air borne items that get into the system.. so feathers in the ventilation system is simply not a valid concern. I would have no problem finding plenty of HVAC specialists , pediatricians, and Allergists to refute any health claims made that Lemon is a risk in anyway shape or form. As far as a distraction. My personal experience is that 2nd graders by nature are dis tractable. The are distracted by their own minds.. and the world in general. I feel the benefits out weigh the negatives in this case... I do think there may be some children who would not benefit from Having lemon in THEIR class and those children could be placed in another class. Please fell free to email me with info youd like to share.
Katies Place August 30, 2010 at 06:01 PM
We will be Advocating for Lemon and Ms Backman on this matter and would welcome all view points , experiences regarding Lemon and information anyone would care to share with us. This situation was avoidable and I hope to help all parties come to a timely positive resolution that benefits the children, Lemon and Ms Backman... So everyone can get on with the school year. Please feel free to email us at katiesplace@mail.com You may sign a petition to Get Lemon back in School at http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/LemonTheDuck/ Join the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Let-Lemon-the-Duck-Back-in-School/149849205044709?ref=ts Thank you.
Diana Tuttle August 31, 2010 at 12:16 AM
The anti-duck sentiments expressed in these comments are wonderful examples of why children graduate with little education, less tolerance, and a wildly inflated sense of entitlement. The world is not "For Humans Only", education can not exist when every experience, every subject, every moment must be sanitized so as to not offend some parent, or raise some parents personal phobia that their child might enter a world that is not sanitized to clean room standards, or suggest in any way that their child is not the center of the teachers , classroom, and schools attention or sin of all sins, their tax dollar is not spent totally on their child to their satisfaction. My tax dollar is certainly not spent to my satisfaction. And "Parents" do not fund their children's education, "Property Owners" do with our property taxes. Something that does not increase with the number of children you send to school. Something that does not stop when our children no longer attend school, or for which there is no exemption because you do not have, or never did have children. So get off your sanctimonious soup box about your dollar paying the teachers salary. You personally pay a minor percentage of the cost of you child's education.
LFP August 31, 2010 at 01:41 AM
You obviously revere this thing you call 'curriculum'. Do you know what it consists of? Here's a little eye opener: grammar is taught for only one reason. It's easy to grade. Excite your kids about reading instead. Try classics on tape - Jungle Book ( Kipling, not Disney), Heidi etc. Play in the car and discuss them at stops. Get them reading. Forget spelling, vocabulary and punctuation - they'll pick it up, I promise. My son placed high in the Natl vocabulary contest, won 500.00 in an adult essay contest, and scored very high on college exams - with out one grammar lesson. Math? Because of a very rare form of migraine, that paralyzed a nerve in my dd's brain, she had no spatial/mathematical abilities until after puberty. She's just started learning math ( at 15!) and is on page 125 of a college level math book she started 3 weeks ago. While other kids labor over busy work, mine foster animals - even did successful surgery on a 'lost case' . In July my son saved a goat's life after a bear attack punctured her lung, while he was working on Kit Carson's ranch at Philmont. He's an Eagle scout and a professional bagpiper and popular teacher - at 19. His sister is a Sea Scout - working on a Hornaday award, and working with horses. I'm not bragging - I'm trying to encourage YOU to consider an authentic life for your own children. Open your eyes, Bean counter. & have a little faith in your teacher. She's a winner.
LFP August 31, 2010 at 03:48 AM
I now agree - Lemon is a distraction. Her plight has kept me distracted for days :-D. Please think back to everything you learned in school. How much did you retain? What sorts of things did you retain? You retained what held your interest, didn't you? My father was an archeologist and for several years, director of museums for our state historical society. We went along on his rounds - slid down banisters, handled artifacts and asked questions. We lived on an intact plantation and played in the former slave quarters, and on a carriage that was being restored in our barn. Guess what? history was my worst subject in school. I found it insufferably dry and boring. I retained none of it. And yet, I not only remember what I learned on those trips, I reinforced it in my play. It is well known that children retain best by physically doing. Passive learning ( what they do in school), especially rote memorization, is the poorest method of teaching there is - but it is cheap. That is why it is done. Ms Backman didn't win awards by bringing in some mindless distraction into the classroom. She won them because she knows a thing or two about teaching. It's a crying shame her school and some of the parents do not.
Shee G August 31, 2010 at 11:53 AM
Children Adapt and will realize in time, IT WAS RIGHT TO DO! As Adults do make the rules for children to follow! A SMART REASON to ME! Distraction is Distraction too! not only what I have added for fruition, but "SCHOOL" Buses have rules too, and #1. is NO! Pets, Lizards, etc. allowed... for many reasons, so why is the SCHOOL Classroom any different... LOOK! at the School Manuel and you will see what I mean. The Memory of Lemon won't be forgotten but" LEARNED" by, and isn't that what SCHOOL is all about anyway!? Rules are NOT made to be BROKEN! This too shall pass as it should! There are lots more important issues to learn in school, without habits to consider of a pet. There will be an end to this solution also, maybe home where pets usually are! :) Peace and Blessings! P.S. Portsmouth is a small town, but Lovely to be in, and the People must make it BETTER... Too many are rude and well known. That too must change! Good Luck on this so-called situation at hand, and on F.B.!!! *(FACE BOOK)
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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