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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Teacher Reassigned After Allegedly Suffocating Rabbit

November 30, 2000

HUNTINGTON PARK — A Huntington Park middle school teacher who allegedly tried to suffocate a rabbit in front of his special education students was removed from the classroom on Wednesday, school district officials said.

Godwin Collins Onunwah, a seventh-grade teacher at Gage Middle School, was reassigned to district administrative offices a day after he was charged with a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty, district spokeswoman Hilda Ramirez said.

"District policy is clear; we've phased out dissection of animals," she said. "Basically, you can't kill a rabbit on campus, or injure one. Also, all teachers must endeavor to impress upon students the humane treatment of animals."

The incident occurred Sept. 29, a few days after Onunwah, 47, asked his students to bring in animals to dissect them in class, officials said.

A 13-year-old boy bought a black and white rabbit at a pet store and delivered it to Onunwah, who put it in a plastic bag, tied the end shut, and then waited for the animal to die, officials said.

But the rabbit was still alive when the last bell rang on a Friday afternoon, officials said. Onunwah put the bag with the live rabbit inside in a cabinet and left for the weekend.

On Monday, the rabbit was dead and Onunwah called authorities to dispose of the carcass, officials said.

Responding to complaints from irate parents, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigated and then presented its finding to the district attorney's office.

Onunwah, who joined the district in 1998, is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 18 in Huntington Park Superior Court. He faces as much as a year in jail and a $20,000 fine if convicted.

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