Buddy Taylor Middle School’s agriscience program could resume when students return from Thanksgiving break next week, Principal Cara Cronk told the Observer.
The outside part of the program, where students tend to the garden and the farm animals, has been shut down since the Flagler County School District investigated a rat-biting incident on Sept. 6.
Cronk said new permission slips with clear safety requirements have been sent home for parents to sign. Students have started growing seedlings inside the classroom, but have not been outside to tend to the plants in the garden or to feed and care for the pigs, chickens, baby steers, rabbits, sheep and goats in the barn area.
Lynette Monahan, the school’s agriscience teacher and Future Farmers of America sponsor, was reprimanded after the investigation into an incident during which at least one student was bitten by a rat.
There are about 130 students involved in the agriscience program, Cronk said.
“They’ve been doing a lot of stuff inside, but they are ready to go outside, and she’s ready,” Cronk said of Monahan.
Cronk said the previous parent consent form was through the FFA. The new one is specifically geared to Buddy Taylor’s program and spells out the safety regulations.
“I don’t know the exact wording, but they’re not to touch wild animals,” Cronk said.
Even if the whole class doesn't have the signed permission slip, the ones that do, we don't want to hold them back from the experience of being able to go outside.”
—CARA CRONK, BTMS principal
“Even if the whole class doesn’t have the signed permission slip, the ones that do, we don’t want to hold them back from the experience of being able to go outside,” she said.
Cronk said the school will have an adult available to help with the remaining students who haven’t turned in a permission slip yet.
“I think she had over half (of the students turn in their forms), and so we said, ‘Let’s move forward.’” Cronk said. “I’m hoping that as soon as we come back from Thanksgiving break that she will be out there.”
The BTMS agriscience program and FFA chapter are very popular, Cronk said.
“They participate in the Flagler County Fair. They go to different conferences; they do forestry. And one of her classes is a year-long course where they are also working on their industry certification for agriculture.”
INVESTIGATION INTO INCIDENT
The investigation began two days after the Sept. 6 incident.
Sept. 6 was a testing day. The students who were not testing that day were assigned to a teacher. Monahan took students out to the farm, and many were unfamiliar with the program. She said she wanted to expose them to the program.
Monahan explained about farm pests and demonstrated how to flush out rats from three to four holes with a water hose. Two students told investigator Michael Rinaldi, the district’s coordinator of professional standards, that they had been bitten by rats. One student went to the emergency room that night because a bite on his left finger had broken the skin.
The student wrote in a statement and told Rinaldi in an interview that he told Monahan he had been bitten, but, “She was focused on the rats and I did not make it clear to her that I was bit.”
Monahan said the student did not inform her he had been bitten. If he had, she said, she would have sent him to the clinic contacted his parents and informed administration.
Another student said she was bitten about three times but the bites did not break the skin. Monahan said she inspected that student’s hands and fingers and there were no punctures, marks or scratches. She said she told the student to use hand sanitizer and to also wash her hands with soap and water.
That student said Monahan asked her if she could grab the rats by their tails and put them in buckets, and that’s when she was bitten.
Monahan said she told students not to pick up the rats.
“Baby rats came out and students began to try to catch them,” she said in her statement. “I told them not to, that I only pick them up by the tail. Some students had already grabbed them and I took the rats from them and placed them in a five gallon orange bucket they could not get out of.”
Monahan said she carried five wet baby rats in a bucket and brought them to the classroom, where she placed them into separate tissue containers on a heating pad in a plastic bin. She said she instructed a student to take the bucket of older rats to the fence line and tip it over and leave it there, but not to touch the rats.
Some students asked if they could take a baby rat home, she said. She told them they could with their parents’ permission.
At the end of the day, she did not hear back from any of the parents or students, so she brought the babies back out and put them over the fence.