With seniors poised to collect their diplomas this evening, Dade school system officials were too busy this morning to talk to The Dade Planet about a pig that had reportedly been dumped at the county high school this week, apparently as a graduation prank.
But at the county agricultural building, The Planet found Rick LaValla of the school
system’s 4-H program grimly defending the Ag Building grass from parents trying to park their cars for graduation ceremonies at adjacent Dade Middle School, and he confirmed: “Students were saying there’s a pig that needs help.”
LaValla said he’d told them the 4-H program couldn’t oblige. 4-H helps students raise and show agricultural animals but is not in the business of finding adoptive homes for unwanted ones. “We’re not a rescue operation,” he said.
LaValla said that he hadn’t seen the pig himself—the Ag Building adjoins the middle, not high school—but that he is often asked to take homeless animals not just because he works in the 4-H program but because of his private farm-and-petting-zoo operation.
The Planet was investigating the pig matter pursuant to a tip from a caller concerned about what seems a tradition of animal cruelty in high school graduations. The porcine headliner of this year’s stunt had been left at the school without food or water, said the caller, while at last year’s commencement ceremony, a succession of students had handed their principal, Josh Ingle, a kitten each as they received their diplomas. The caller did not know what had happened to the kittens.
LaValla said he himself had attended last year’s graduation and had witnessed the kitten prank. He did not know the ultimate fate of the kittens, either.
But back to the pig of 2016: Front-office staffers at the high school said they understood someone had come and taken the pig away but would not discuss the matter further. They said Ingle, the principal, was busy with school-year-end activities.
At the board of education office, Associate Superintendent Billy Hooker sent word by a clerk he knew nothing about any pig. But later in the day Dr. Jan Harris, Dade’s new superintendent of schools, found time in the afternoon's hectic activities to call and assure The Planet all was well with the pig. "This is not a story about animal cruelty at all," she said.
She said she had spoken with Ingle who had confirmed the pig arrived "a couple of days ago," they both assumed as part of some student prank, and had been placed in a pen and fed and watered while it remained at the school. She did not know where the animal had been taken ultimately but said Ingle had assured her it was no longer at the school.
Dr. Harris denied knowing the identity of the prankster, and as for punishment, she said: "I'm not aware of any action being taken against any student."
As for a pattern of animal cruelty, she denied that vehemently. "We love animals," she said. "In fact, we are in the process of building a little barn in back for the ag program."
She said she found Dade students protective of the weak, whether animals or fellow students who were disabled. She said she expected the highest standards of them and that they lived up to them. "I have no evidence to the contrary," she said.
At her former school system in rural Alabama, students had done a similar graduation trick with chickens, said the superintendent.
As for the kitten story, Dr. Harris said she could not comment on events that had transpired before her arrival.