FULLERTON — School officials are investigating allegations by a group of parents that at least three students in Sunny Hills High School's agriculture program mutilated animals over the course of at least a year.
The parents contend the school's principal and agriculture teacher failed to thoroughly investigate complaints they raised last year, an allegation the agriculture teacher denies. The parents, calling themselves the Committee of Concerned Citizens, last month submitted an anonymous 21-page report to school board members outlining the alleged animal mutilation incidents and other problems they say took place at the high school.
J. Kenneth Jones, superintendent of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, said Wednesday that he, school board members and other district officials are looking into the accusations, but have not yet determined if they are valid. Jones declined to comment specifically about any of the allegations, citing student and employee confidentiality policies.
At least one parent and two students say they witnessed other students in the school's agriculture program disembowel squirrels, play baseball with dead chickens and torture pigeons during the 1993-94 school year. But when they complained to Sunny Hills Principal Loring Davies and teacher Chris Maddalena--who heads the 145-student agriculture program--their concerns were brushed aside, they contend.
Donna Dunn, a parent who has spent time at the school farm, said she witnessed pigeons being tortured and dead chickens being tossed around on several occasions during the 1993-94 school year. "That's when I realized things were out of control. These kids are unsupervised and they can do whatever they want," she said.
In an interview, Maddalena responded that "the only thing I can say is that those accusations are not true at all. I've been here three years, and I've never seen any animal mutilations of any kind."
Maddalena said he was once approached by a student about alleged animal mutilations. But when he investigated, he found there was no truth to the accusations, he said.
"At times, a squirrel would die and we would pick it up in a shovel and carry it away," he said. "Some people are squeamish about that."
Davies did not return a reporter's phone calls Wednesday, but in an interview last month, said he was unaware of any alleged animal mutilations at the 2,000-student school.
One student contends she saw fellow students routinely torture pigeons, chickens and squirrels. She said she once saw a disemboweled squirrel nailed to a box where farm supplies are kept.
"Lots of times, they would tie up the feet of pigeons, let them fly up and then pull them back down and drag them against the ground," said the student. "One time, they played baseball with a dead chicken. One of them found a piece of wood, threw the chicken up by its legs and hit it."
The allegations are the latest to surface at a school known for high-achieving students that has had more than its share of negative publicity in recent years. Last year, a potential valedictorian, Robert Chan, and four other Sunny Hills High students were convicted in the brutal slaying of Foothill High School honor student Stuart A. Tay. And 1990 graduate Edward Charles III is currently accused of murdering his parents and brother last November.
The district agreed last month to pay a $670,000 out-of-court settlement to four female students who contend they were sexually harassed by a Sunny Hills High School teacher.
Jones acknowledged that district officials have known about the recent complaints since the report was turned over to them in late March, but said the district's investigation is somewhat hampered by the fact that the document is anonymous.
"It doesn't help us not to have a clearer situation," he said. "What's also difficult is the number and variety of accusations that get talked about in this report." The report contains numerous other allegations of conflicts within the Sunny Hills agriculture program, as well as complaints that school officials failed to properly investigate student fights and other incidents.
The report was submitted to the school board by Anthony M. Valla, a school board member in Fullerton's elementary and junior high school district.
"I felt that the people involved had made a good-faith attempt to address their complaints with the proper people, and got no response," Valla said. "So I did agree to take it to the board in a closed session."
School board member Robert A. Singer said he wasn't sure how long it would take to investigate the report, but added that the board "is taking it seriously."