Thursday was last day for 31-year veteran

The Forest High School teacher accused of enlisting students to help drown two raccoons and an opossum in class has retired after 31 years with the Marion school district.

In a letter dated Thursday and released by the school district on Friday, ag-science teacher Dewie Brewton announced that he has retired, effective immediately.

On Thursday, the Star-Banner reported that a majority of the five-member School Board expressed disgust with Brewton's actions. Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier already had recommended that the board fire him.

Board Chairwoman Beth McCall said Thursday that while Brewton clearly violated the teacher’s code of conduct, the instructor has due process rights under his teaching contract that must be honored before the board rules on his fate.

“He will be dealt with appropriately,” McCall told the Star-Banner during a break at the board’s Thursday work session, which concerned different topics.

Brewton's retirement means the school district's plan to investigate his actions has ended. The Florida Department of Health and the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are still investigating.

District spokesman Kevin Christian said the district placed Brewton on leave with pay pending its investigation. Christian said the district investigation begins once the criminal investigation ends. Since Brewton retired, and law enforcement is investigating, the district ended plans to launch its probe.

The district will send state education officials the original complaint from a parent. If criminal charges are filed against Brewton, the state would also be alerted. Once the state gets all the information, then officials will determine if possible actions are necessary.

The local school district handles employment, the state Department of Education handles teacher licensing, and the state Division of Retirement determines pension eligibility. 

"It will be entirely up to the state whether they wish to revoke his teaching license and/or his pension," Christian said.

The State Attorney’s Office acknowledged Thursday that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has contacted it about the case. Prosecutors will decide whether Brewton will face criminal charges.

Early this week, students told authorities that Brewton enlisted them to help drown the animals. At least one of the creatures was suspected of killing a chicken in the school’s FFA program. Brewton is accused of instructing students to use metal rods to keep the animals, which were in cages lowered into water-filled garbage bins, under water.

The moments before the drowning of the raccoons and opossum were captured on video by a student and shared with an Orlando television station. The story has been reported by dozens of media outlets around the world and inspired multiple comments on social media.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website, “live-captured nuisance wildlife must be released legally or euthanized humanely within 24 hours of capture or trap inspection.”

For guidance on legal release, the website says:

“Native nuisance wildlife may be released on the property of the landowner where captured provided the release site and capture site are located on one contiguous piece of property. Native nuisance wildlife may be released off the capture site if the release site is a minimum of 40 contiguous acres, located in the same county as the capture site, and the person releasing the nuisance wildlife has in their possession written permission from the landowner of the release site allowing release on their property. Nuisance wildlife may not be released on federal, state, county, local or private lands without written permission of the landowner.”

For guidance on allowable euthanasia, the agency links to the Report of the American Veterinary Medical Association Panel on Euthanasia. That document includes drowning on its list of unacceptable primary methods of euthanasia.

Also Friday, the Liberation Ocala African American Council came to Brewton's defense and criticized Maier and the School Board.

“The community should be troubled by the rush to judgment statements and actions by district administrators and School Board members, even before a fair and thorough investigation,” the organization said in a prepared statement.

The statement notes that school officials did not acknowledge that nuisance animals are dangers. Raccoons are “carriers of rabies and other diseases that can cause grave threats to humans.”

"The community supporters will view his actions in this incident as the appropriate action for euthanasia of nuisance animals,” the statement says.

The statement further indicates that, as the ag-science teacher, Brewton was qualified to handle nuisance animals. The council states that though Brewton’s actions may not be viewed as acceptable practices by the school district administration and School Board, “it does not make Brewton a cruel and insensitive person.”

The council asked the district to conduct a fair, unbiased investigation.

Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.