Sunday, November 19, 2017
Education

Video of Tampa teacher juggling dead frogs draws PETA's scorn (w/video)

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TAMPA — Six months ago, a snippet of video showing a Sickles High School science teacher juggling three frogs — three dead frogs, ready to be dissected — was posted online.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is still upset about it.

PETA complained to the Hills­borough County School District when the video came out but that went nowhere. So on Wednesday, PETA took its case to the Internet.

The animal rights organization sent out a news release and recirculated the video online. PETA is now calling on the Florida Department of Education to end animal dissection altogether in the state's science classrooms.

"Frogs used for dissection are torn away from their homes in the wild and killed — and in classrooms like this one, students are taught that these abused animals are props and inanimate laboratory tools to be mocked, mutilated, and discarded," PETA director of laboratory investigations Justin Goodman said in a statement.

The video, which shows teacher Tony Leotta juggling three dead frogs for several seconds before dropping two of them, was filmed by a student and posted to Vine last spring. In July, PETA science education specialist Samantha Suiter raised the organization's concerns at a Hillsborough County School Board meeting.

Suiter, a college biology professor, said Wednesday that she asked the School Board to consider replacing frog dissection with "virtual dissection" done on a computer and offered to donate the software, which is funded by an education grant.

PETA provided similar computer programs, Digital Frog and Cat Works, to the Miami-Dade School District, which halted the dissection of real cats this year, the Miami Herald reported. Pinellas County schools still use cats for dissection projects and offer virtual dissection as an alternative for students who oppose working with tissue.

PETA says an estimated 10 million animals are killed every year for dissection, and that the practice can "traumatize students and foster callousness toward animals."

After the meeting in July, the Hillsborough School Board encouraged Suiter to meet with the district's science educators, she said. She spoke with the science curriculum director and made plans to discuss her concerns in more meetings with teachers, but then never heard anything further from the district.

Suiter said she is unsure if the meetings never happened or if she just wasn't invited, but she eventually decided to elevate the issue to the state level.

"We were disappointed that the district did not take any action," Suiter said.

The school district said Monday that Suiter was invited to participate in a September meeting with science department heads, but the meeting location did not have the sufficient technology to video chat with her. Suiter was invited to another meeting in October, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said, but it's unclear if the time or date was ever communicated to Suiter. In her absence, the district did distribute PETA literature that Suiter had provided about "virtual dissection."

Arja said the decision to integrate that technology is up to the science department heads.

"We see the value in dissection as part of the curriculum, and we follow state guidelines for safe dissections," Arja said.

Leotta, the teacher, was verbally reprimanded by the district, the Sickles High principal and the head of the science department. Leotta's students were nervous about dissecting the frogs so he used the juggling stunt to calm them down, Arja said, though the district said it does not condone his behavior.

In PETA's letter to the state, it said the teacher violated state education guidelines and policies of the National Science Teachers Association and the National Association of Biology Teachers, which say teachers should treat animals respectfully and ethically.

"We're specifically concerned about the egregious behavior of the teacher," Suiter said, "and by using humane alternatives they could avoid a situation like this in the future."

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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