When it comes to classroom rabbits, there are a lot of things to consider between rabbit personality, setup/habitat, and logistics. A classroom pet should be the teacher's personal pet that gets shared with the classroom (just as a parent should be the person responsible for making sure the rabbit has proper care), especially since the children will change from year to year. With over 15 years of experience working with classrooms - giving presentations, working with teachers who have classroom pets, and accepting many surrenders of former classroom pets - here are the many questions and concerns we want teachers to consider before acquiring a classroom rabbit.
What if a kid has allergies? What if the school's rules change and the rabbit is no longer allowed at school? Allergies can sometimes be managed by husbandry changes (changing hay or bedding types), but rehoming is not easy on a rabbit, and it shouldn't have to go through it again or get returned because it is no longer welcomed at school due to no fault of its own. This is why it should be a "teacher's pet" and a plan in place in case the rabbit can no longer stay at the school.
What if the rabbit hurts a child? Rabbits don't care to be held and may kick, scratch, or bite. Rabbits use subtle body language to communicate and if they feel their message isn't getting through, they will resort to "extreme" measures to get their point across, just like a frustrated dog or human. Will the rabbit get punished by having to stay in its cage all day? Will the teacher be financially responsible if a parent gets upset?
Any size rabbit should have a minimum of a 2' x 4' habitat (just think of how far they hop in one leap, then add in litter box, toys, etc.). A rabbit that visits the classroom regularly will need either a travel setup or second permanent setup in addition to the one at the teacher's home.
In addition to its own habitat, the rabbit will need a place where it can run around and exercise. Rabbits love to chew and dig, so care must be taken to avoid electrical wires, backpacks, and other things that a rabbit might naturally want to chew in the area that it explores. The rabbit should also have time to explore on its own unimpeded by the students as well as time outside the cage where the students want to interact, just like the kids need their own recess time to do their own thing. Rabbits are a lot like cats when it comes to personality, and even if the students correctly approach, pet or handle the rabbit, the rabbit may still be disinterested at the time. The lesson of respect for others should be taught here and the rabbit should be left alone versus being followed around the classroom.
In a rabbit's natural day, they are most active at sunrise and sunset and casually nap during the day and night. If a classroom is particularly loud or active, this would be annoying to even the most tolerant rabbit (and we all know how humans get cranky when they don't get their beauty sleep for multiple days in a row).
If the rabbit is toted from home to classroom and back everyday, how long is the commute? Rabbits are often sensitive to travel and most are easily stressed, so long car rides multiple times a day are likely to adversely affect a rabbits health in the long term. Even if there is no immediate noticeable problem, the cumulative effects of stress most often result in digestive issues that are often attributed to something else or "unknown cause."
If the children are old enough to be responsible for feeding and daily cleaning, there will still be times where additional and more specialized care is needed. Nails should be trimmed every 4 to 6 weeks, and grooming would be dependent on hair type but in addition to weekly brushing, during periods of molting they may need significant grooming time (and the fur will fly!). The cage or habitat should be completely cleaned out at least weekly. The same individual - ideally the teacher - should be watching daily for changes in the rabbit's routine, poop size, how quickly meals are eaten, etc. Rabbits and other prey animal kept as pets often hide illness and these subtle signs are sometimes the only ones given before illness or injury has gotten to the final stages.
The teacher or assistant must not only teach the students proper rabbit care and handling, but also observe and enforce those rules during interactions. It's incredibly tempting to pick up and snuggle an adorable rabbit, even though most rabbits dislike it (even though some will tolerate it). Extra care and help must be given with smaller children who may just be simply too small to properly support a rabbit comfortably.
Proper vet care is important no matter where a rabbit primarily lives. If a bunny gets sick or injured, it's important that the students learn that all lives are valuable and the rabbit must be treated with the same compassion and receive veterinary attention.
If a rabbit is kept overnight on the weekdays at school, that means they are left alone for at least 15 hours of their day. Rabbits are creatures that live in groups naturally, and most classrooms want social rabbits, so 2/3 of their day alone is not a good setup at all for a pet that wants to be around others. This can be improved upon if there is a pair of rabbits being kept together.
The rabbit cannot spend the weekend or holidays at a school. They cannot go that long without having water or hay refreshed, and some schools allow the temperature to get warmer or cooler when students are not in session. Sending a rabbit home with different students each weekend is never recommended - the disruption in routine is significantly stressful and parents are not bunny-savvy enough to accurately supervise interactions with children and/or pets. In addition to being a poor choice for the rabbit, this is also unfair to the students who don't get permission from their parents to take the rabbit home.
While spending the day in the school's library may be one of the better "classroom pet" options, there are other alternatives that still provide the fun of meeting animals and education too. A teacher may use their pet rabbit's visit as a surprise or reward after a big test or week of good behavior. You could also invite other teacher's to bring their personal pets for meet-and-greets throughout the year to get a variety of animal visitors. Another great option is to have various rescue groups bring in their foster pets for children to meet - many rescues love the exposure as well as there are rescues for quite a variety of pets. Some pet stores like Petco also offer field trips through Field Trip Factory where animals are taken out of the habitats for students to meet.