Teacher accused of 'bullying' FFA students over animal cruelty

Remarks left students in tears, officials say

OCALA, Fla. – A teacher has been placed on unpaid leave after students reported that he bullied and harassed them and accused them of animal cruelty because they were involved in a farming program, according to Marion County Public Schools officials.

Students said Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks science teacher Thomas Allison left them in tears and questioning their involvement in FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America. 

In an eight-page petition filed earlier this month, Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier recommended that Allison be terminated.

Five students complained about Allison's alleged harassment.

"One student reported that she loved being involved in FFA and does not want to feel that a teacher is stopping her from wanting to raise and show livestock, but (Allison) has made her feel that she is doing something wrong," the document said. "The student quoted (Allison) as stating 'when you take (your animal) to the fair to show it, then it will get slaughtered.'"

Students accused Allison of berating them and lecturing them during class. One student said Allison repeatedly asked her if she felt bad for her pig until the student burst into tears. 

Another student said Allison bought the FFA chapter's lamb and then sent it to Kindred Spirit Animal Sanctuary. Pictures of the lamb appear on Allison's school blog, along with pictures of students dissecting frogs and performing science experiments. 

"The student who reported this behavior was very upset about what transpired because she is from a foreign country and had never raised a lamb before and (Allison's) conduct took away the pride she felt at her accomplishment," documents said.

Allison used his anecdotes about being an animal welfare activist to belittle students in his class. Even so, he told students that if someone were to put meat on his plate he would eat it so it doesn't go to waste. He also told students that their FFA animals would have their throats slit, according to school documents.

Students claim Allison's beliefs affected their grades and made it difficult for them to pass his class. The so-called bullying tactics have rubbed off on some of Allison's aquaponics students and have created a hostile culture within the school, documents show.

"(Allison) has engaged in a repeated, egregious pattern of mistreating, ridiculing, insulting, intimidating, embarassing, bullying and abusing FFA students, crushing their dreams and causing them to feel that they must discontinue their FFA activities in order to enjoy a peaceful school environment," Maier wrote in the petition.

Allison has been placed on unpaid leave pending a formal school board hearing, which will likely take place within the next month. 

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