I’m generally in favor of schoolteachers enriching the curriculum by bringing their own expertise into classroom discussions and lessons.
But not when it involves demonstrating the proper technique to drown a raccoon.
That’s what happened this month at a Florida public high school when Dewie Brewton, an agricultural science teacher at Forest High School in Ocala, took his class outside for some hands-on experience in killing nuisance animals.
As part of the class, the students had been taking care of chickens, and some of those chickens had been killed by an unknown predator. The teacher set cage traps, and those cages caught two raccoons and an opossum.
Florida law says that captured nuisance animals must be “released legally or euthanized humanely” within 24 hours after capture.
The teacher chose the death-penalty option and involved his students as executioner assistants. (Think of it as the world’s worst science project.)
The kids filled a large trash bin full of water and then stood around it as Brewton submerged the caged animals inside the barrel and observed their final throes of death.
Is it humane to drown an animal? Well, it’s not recommended by Florida wildlife officials as a method of euthanasia.
One of the students came home and told his mother about the impromptu science lab, and the mother complained to the school.
Students had been given an option to stay in the classroom if they didn’t want to witness the drownings. One student observer videotaped a portion of the drownings on his phone, and it made the local TV news.
Marion County Schools Superintendent Heidi Maier responded by calling for the teacher to be fired.
“Marion County’s education standards — in fact, Florida’s education standards — do not include activities for the destruction of live animals, nuisance or not,” a statement from the school district said.
Brewton was put on paid leave pending an investigation. That investigation, done by the local prosecutor’s office, ended with a decision not to charge Brewton with animal cruelty.
“He determined it was best to trap these animals to stop the incessant and unnecessary killing of the students’ birds,” State Attorney Brad King wrote in a memo outlining the case.
Brewton “explained that the most humane way to dispose of these nuisance animals was to drown them,” King wrote. “He was clear that he never intended to be cruel, or vicious, nor did he intend to torment or torture the animals.”
Brewton decided not to return to the school. He’s retiring early. Lots of Florida teachers opt for early retirement in the DROP program. He’s the first to retire in the DROWN program.
Brewton’s animal-disposal demonstration wasn’t criticized by all. The Forest High Future Farmers of America (FFA) Alumni group quickly came to Brewton’s defense.
“He is a man of faith and has always provided the wisdom and guidance needed for his students to succeed,” the group’s Facebook posting reads. “He is a supporter of the agriculture industry and the FFA. The media is going to make this situation escalate to lengths that are unnecessary and we must stand together and focus on the facts.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but “the media” has become a convenient repository of blame for just about everything these days.
I can say for certain that I’ve never advocated for the drowning of raccoons. I will, however, exercise my Fifth Amendment rights when it comes to iguanas.
With iguanas, and any other exotic species, you don’t have the option to transport the ones you catch.
Nuisance raccoons and opossums can be legally relocated, although it takes a little effort and paperwork.
“Native nuisance wildlife may be released off the capture site if the release site is a minimum of 40 contiguous acres, located in the same county as the capture site, and the person releasing the nuisance wildlife has in their possession written permission from the landowner of the release site allowing release on their property,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rules state. “Nuisance wildlife may not be released on federal, state, county, local or private lands without written permission of the landowner.”
Yeah, it’s easier to just to take the kids outside and let them help you drown the critters in a big barrel of water. But a better school lesson would have been the one that required a little more homework and humanity.