Controversy is swirling around a junior high science teacher in Idaho who has been accused of feeding a puppy to a snapping turtle after school, multiple news outlets report.
On Thursday, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and the Preston Police Department responded to a complaint about possible animal cruelty involving a teacher at Preston Junior High School, prosecutors said in a news release obtained by PEOPLE.
The teacher has not been officially named, and PEOPLE’s efforts to reach them for comment were unsuccessful.
Authorities have declined to confirm or deny speculation about what exactly occurred at the school.
In a statement, district officials reportedly said only that on March 7, they were told of a “regrettable circumstance involving some of the biological specimens” at the school.
“The event,” the district said in a statement obtained by TV station KSTU, “was not a part of any school-directed program. We emphasize that at no time was the safety of students or staff compromised.”
The administration “was made aware of the issue soon after it occurred and immediately began the process of investigation and taking steps to ensure that this type of action could not be repeated,” the statement continued.
The district said it will decide “the best course of action once the facts of the matter have been ascertained. This is not a situation that is easy, nor do we feel it is a measure that can be taken lightly. As such we ask for patience while appropriate measures are determined and carried out.”
PEOPLE’s calls and emails to the school district and to the superintendent were not immediately returned.
Jill Parrish, described in news reports as a local animal rights activist and parent, reportedly said she filed the police report when she heard that the Preston Junior High teacher allegedly fed a live puppy to a snapping turtle in their classroom last week, as students watched.
Citing a law enforcement source, East Idaho News reported that the alleged feeding was done in front of students but it was unclear if the puppy was alive at the time.
Parrish told KSTU, “What I have learned in the last four days is disgusting. It is sick. It is sick.”
“Allowing children to watch an innocent baby puppy scream because it is being fed to an animal, that is violence,” she reportedly said. “That is not okay.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Franklin Sheriff Dave Fryar told PEOPLE he had no comment on the incident and referred further inquiries to prosecutors.
In a statement, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Vic Pearson said local law enforcement had turned over its incident reports in the matter “for review of potential animal cruelty charges against the teacher.”
Due to a “conflict of interest,” though, Pearson said he sent the reports on to another prosecutor.
“There has been a considerable amount of public reaction regarding the allegations being made,” Pearson said in his statement. “I understand the reaction of the public regarding this incident but would ask for some patience at this point in time.”
Authorities need time to make sure they have “met the legal and ethical standards” required by the criminal justice system, he explained.
“However, the volume of calls being received by both law enforcement and my office is hindering our ability to complete what needs to be done to reach the end goal of justice in this case,” he said.
‘The Best Science Teacher’ or a ‘Bully’?
As the investigation continues, the teacher’s supporters and critics have gathered together.
Calling the teacher a “bully,” PETA released a statement of its own about the alleged incident, news station KUTV reports.
“Any youngster who witnessed cruelty in the classroom is now in desperate need of lessons about having empathy for other living beings,” PETA said, in part.
“Like many of you, we are deeply disturbed by this news,” the Idaho Humane Society wrote online this week, according to the Idaho Statesman. “We will be following this situation closely and ensuring the full truth is disclosed and that if an act of animal cruelty occurred that the perpetrator is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
A petition asking for the teacher to be fired has reportedly been signed more than 3,400 times. A petition supporting the teacher has been signed more than 2,400 times.
“It’s time to stand up for one of the best science teachers in the Preston, Idaho school district,” said former student River McKay, who started the second petition, according to KIVI.
“He’s the best science teacher Preston Junior High has,” parent Julie Johnson told KSTU.
Some justified the alleged act while noting that they believed the puppy was possibly ailing and terminally ill.
Parent Annette Salvesen told KSTU, “If it was a deformed puppy that was going to die anyway — [the teacher] is very much circle of life.”