Press Releases

Group sues LA schools for rabbit suffocation

The Associated Press
Saturday June 29, 2002

LOS ANGELES — A seventh-grade teacher who suffocated a rabbit triggered a Superior Court lawsuit by a group seeking to force the Los Angeles Unified School District to change its policy on animal experimentation. 

The Animal Legal Defense Fund said it filed suit Thursday after failing to persuade the district to change its policy voluntarily. 

“Our concern isn’t to go back and punish anyone,” said attorney Mitchell Wagner. “The ALDF is not one of these radical interest groups. It wants the school district’s policies to comply with the law.” 

Godwin Collins Onunwah was a seventh-grade teacher at Gage Middle School in Huntington Park when he placed the rabbit in a plastic bag and tied the bag shut in front of his students in September 2000. 

When the animal didn’t die of asphyxiation, authorities said, Onunwah placed the bag in a cabinet and left it there over the weekend. When he returned to school on Monday the rabbit was dead. 

Jurors acquitted him of animal cruelty charges last year, ruling he didn’t act maliciously. The school district did not renew his teaching contract, however. 

School officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday, saying they had not seen the complaint. 

State law allows students to decline to participate in activities where an animal might be harmed. 

Wagner said the district sends parents a blanket disclaimer at the start of each school year, but he said the law also requires individual teachers to give notice to parents at the time of the specific activity.