Preston School Board meets this week — but alleged animal cruelty case not on agenda

A Preston Junior High teacher is accused of feeding an ailing puppy to a snapping turtle on March 7, during and afterschool feeding session. This is not the turtle that was involved. That turtle was euthanized last week.
A Preston Junior High teacher is accused of feeding an ailing puppy to a snapping turtle on March 7, during and afterschool feeding session. This is not the turtle that was involved. That turtle was euthanized last week. Witchita Eagle/TNS

The biggest thing to happen in the Preston School District in recent memory — a junior high teacher accused of animal cruelty on school grounds — is not on the school board’s meeting agenda for this week.

However, “public input” is listed after the prayer, pledge of allegiance and consent agenda, so it’s possible the issue could be brought up by someone in attendance. A spokeswoman for the animal activist group PETA said they may have a representative at the meeting.

The board has not held any emergency meetings since March 7 when allegations surfaced that a junior high teacher fed a puppy to a classroom turtle. That incident led to a report of animal cruelty, school officials said Monday.

Preston School Board Chairwoman Joy Christensen said school board meetings don’t generally draw many people.

“Until you arrive at the meeting, it’s really hard to tell,” she said. “There are usually a few community members and teachers. It is usually a very sparse attendance at school board meetings. They’re not the epitome of entertainment.”

Christensen said the board will not discuss the allegations. Neither the district, nor police, have identified the teacher — Robert Crosland — who was first outed on social media and later by The Idaho State Journal.

The board could discuss Crosland in executive session, then come out of that meeting to take action. Christensen said that won’t happen unless they receive new information from law enforcement officials.

“I don’t think we’ve been given any kind of timeframe. It is completely at the discretion of the authorities,” she said.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the district offices, next to the high school. The board’s regular meetings are the third Wednesday of the month.

Preston Schools Superintendent Marc Gee said Monday that the district is cooperating with law enforcement officials on the investigation into the March 7 incident.

Gee said district officials were made aware of the issue soon after it occurred, and they began investigating and taking steps to ensure that it won’t be repeated.

Gee said extra police were at local schools Monday, but not as many as last week after threats of violence to the school district.

“The goal is to keep the week as normal as possible for the students’ sake,” Gee said.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook Thursday that none of the threats made were found to be credible. At least one of the threats was reported to the FBI, according to The Preston Citizen.

The Franklin County Prosecutor has received investigative reports on the animal feeding incident at the junior high from the sheriff and Preston Police. Last Tuesday, Franklin County Prosecutor Vic A. Pearson said he handed off the case to another prosecutor in the 6th District due to conflict of interest.

Pearson has not released which prosecutor is now handling that case. In response to a Statesman public record request last week, Pearson said Friday that he had not filed the formal paperwork to conflict the case out to another prosecutor.

“I anticipate a written appointment of conflict will be filed soon,” he said via email.

There are six county prosecutors in the 6th District, including Pearson. Bear Lake County Prosecutor John Olson told the Statesman Monday that he has not been tapped to handle the case.

Prosecutors in Bannock, Caribou, Oneida and Power counties did not respond to a request for information Monday.

There are several online petitions calling for Crosland to be fired, and one has almost 135,500 signatures. But Crosland seems to have strong support within in the small town of Preston. More than 3,600 people have signed an online petition in support of the longtime science teacher.

Christensen said the teacher in question — she did not acknowledge it is Crosland — had taught in the school district for a long time.

“More than a decade,” she said. “I know that he’s taught all five of my children. My oldest is 25.”

Crosland’s house burned down in 2015, according to the Idaho State Journal. Almost $17,000 was raised by 150 people who donated to an online GoFundMe account organized by their Dr. Kurt Iverson, a local dentist and bishop at their church.

On Friday, the Idaho Department of Agriculture announced in a press release that it had euthanized the turtle involved in the feeding incident.

The turtle was seized by Fish & Game officials on Tuesday. The Department of Agriculture, which enforces provisions of the Invasive Species Act, euthanized the turtle on Wednesday.

Agriculture officials said relocation of invasive animals, including snapping turtles, is complex due to stress on the animal, lack of suitable release sites, and disease spread to other wildlife, livestock, companion animals and people.

Ag officials did not respond to a question Friday or Monday about whether re-homing the turtle with a family inside or outside Idaho was considered, or if Crosland was cited for not having a permit for the turtle. There’s no evidence he was cited in online court records.

PETA sent a letter to the Preston School District last week, urging administrators to implement a humane education program in the district and to urge students in the district to report cruelty to animals whenever they see it. They offered to provide materials from their TeachKind program.

“We’re here to assist you in any way we can in order to ensure that your efforts to teach empathy are successful,” the letter says.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller