Source: An ABC Action News report 3/18/04
PLANT CITY - It's hard to understand how someone could kill an innocent baby rabbit, but that's exactly what a Plant City teacher is accused of doing in front of her students, twice.
According to students, agriculture teacher Jane Bender used a shovel to kill two day-old rabbits after the sickly newborns were rejected by their mother.
"She came over with a shovel and just sort of chopped in the hole, and then buried them," recalled student Ryan Harrell, who was so upset by his teacher's actions that he threw up and then broke down crying. "I was really shocked and appalled. I didn't have any words for it."
The students' testimony indicates they offered to take care of the bunnies. However, Bender said she did not want to bottle feed day-old rabbits, and killed them on the spot after the students refused to bury them alive.
As word of the killing got back to investigators, Bender was cited for two civil counts of animal cruelty.
"Her only comment was that she had made a bad decision," Animal Services investigator Dennis McCullough said of Bender. "I definitely felt that the teacher needed to be held accountable."
Now, the veteran teacher is facing stiff fines, as well as questions from the school board.
"We haven't talked to the teacher yet," schools spokesman Mark Hart said with a sigh, "but we believe that she was trying to explain to them that, sometimes in the course of farming, it is necessary to put animals down."
A few students were willing to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, echoing that sentiment.
"[It's] for the better of the animals. They're dying already, she went ahead and took care of it an put them out of their misery," student Charlie Lusk observed.
"Nothing like that should be done in front of the kids. I mean, it shouldn't have been done anyway," one parent countered.
The sheriff's office investigated and turned the case over to the state attorney's office. They determined that Bender might have displayed bad judgment, but no criminal charges were warranted.
The school board plans to review the case. Bender, who has 30 years of excellent reviews in her personnel file, may face a letter of caution or a reprimand.