Reading, writing and reloading rifles

9th January 1998 at 00:00
UNITED STATES

An animal rights group is protesting against the tradition of closing schools in rural West Virginia so that students can participate in the deer-hunting season, writes Jon Marcus.

Thirty-eight of the state's 55 counties cancelled classes for the first week of the hunt this winter, on the grounds that most students would skip school anyway and take to the woods with rifles.

"There's no point holding schools in some of these counties because so many people go hunting," said Bill Luff, associate superintendent of the state board of education.

Last year nearly half the children were absent in one of the few districts that operated during deer season. Residents jokingly attributed the problem to an outbreak of "camouflage flu," after the outfits hunters wear. This year, that county also cancelled classes for the week.

Many businesses also traditionally close during the West Virginia hunting season to give their employees time off. Some schools in neighbouring southeastern Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania close for the same reason. Many teachers and administrators join the hunt.

Deer hunting is "a time-honoured tradition in this state," and part of its children's education, Mr Luff said. Many low-income families, officials said, depend on killing deer to put food on the table.

But Heidi Prescott, national director of the Fund for Animals, said deer hunting has "no redeeming social or educational value".

"We find it appalling that the West Virginia school system would put a stamp of approval on absenteeism for the purpose of killing animals in the name of recreation," Ms Prescott said. "There is nothing educational or wholesome about turning the new three Rs into reading, 'riting and reloading."

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