An Idaho science teacher has entered a plea of not guilty to charges of animal cruelty after being accused of feeding a live puppy to a snapping turtle in front of horrified students.
Robert Crosland, who kept exotic animals in a tank in his biology class at Preston Junior High School, was charged in June after several parents came forward to complain about the incident.
He will stand trial in October and, if convicted, faces up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $5,000 (£3,700).
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In a statement released shortly after the alleged incident took place in March, the Preston school district acknowledged the “regrettable” circumstances of the after-school turtle feeding, although it did not directly address reports that a live puppy was involved.
“We hope that any errors in judgment made by a teacher in this instance will not cause us to forget the years of care, effort and passion the teacher has given to the students of the Preston School District,” the statement added.
At least one former student appeared to support this stance, telling East Idaho News that Crosland was “a cool teacher who really brought science to life”.
Nonetheless, “several online petitions called for Crosland to be fired, and one now has more than 198,000 signatures” the Idaho Statesman reports, noting that a petition in support of Crosland has attracted a less impressive 3,900 signatures.
The snapping turtle at the centre of the controversy was confiscated by Department of Agriculture officials and later euthanised.
However, officials stressed that, contrary to claims circulated by outraged animal-lovers, the euthanasia was not a “punishment” for the alleged incident but was mandatory under the Invasive Species Act, designed to protect local wildlife from predation or diseases from non-native species.
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