A Kentucky teacher lost her job after she went to PETA and reported middle school students guilty of animal abuse. Now she's been reinstated, after an independent tribunal ruled her school was trying to cover up the incident.
When eight baby opossums were found dead -- and possibly tortured -- on school property, teacher Lorraine Leadingham found out the students suspected of killing the animals.
Leadingham, who teaches Visual Arts at Bath County Middle School, says she first attempted to report the students to the police, but she was told they wouldn't question the students based on hearsay. By then, according to Leadingham, the students had confessed, but the school's principal and assistant superintendent wouldn't punish them.
Because the incident had taken place outside of school hours, they said, it wasn't their responsibility to discipline the children.
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Turning to animal rights organization PETA, Leadingham gave the agency the names of the students involved in the opossum killings.
She was promptly fired from her job.
"I took a stand and put my job on the line for it," Leadingham said. "And I feel what I did was right."
The independent tribunal found that the students accused of animal torture were the children of "prominent community citizens." It concluded that, although Leadingham should not have contacted PETA (since the organization isn't a law enforcement body), the school was wrong in firing her for doing so.
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It's true that PETA could have done all kinds of damaging things with the information Leadingham gave them. The organization could have made these children's names public and dragged them through the mud in the media.
However, when a school and a police department refuse to respond to reports of animal abuse, which isn't just a case of "boys being boys," it's understandable that Leadingham looked for someone to treat the abuse seriously.
Remember, studies show a child's abuse of animals is often connected to abuse the child may be experiencing at home. The animal can become an object the child uses to vent his or her anger. Adults should have taken this opportunity to look closely and compassionately at the perpetrators -- so they had an opportunity to confide in a safe person if they themselves were being hurt.
Ultimately, the teacher was right. This is not 1940. We can't sweep incidents like this under the carpet anymore.
Animal torture is very serious, and if school officials wanted to ignore it, Leadingham was right to find people who wouldn't.