A Rabbit on Trial
A Rabbit on Trial

The scene of the crime

Suburban New England elementary school

Beautiful fall September morning, 1981


I am greeted at 8 a.m. by Mr. Kittle, our school custodian, who appears agitated. He invites me to accompany him to Mrs. S's 5th grade classroom where he has been chasing mice since 7:45 a.m.

Mrs. S's classroom is full of life, both figuratively and
literally. Her informally structured classroom resembles both a family room (second hand carpet and couch, shelves overflowing with books) and a petting zoo dropped down into a traditional box-like school classroom amidst tables where small groups of children pursue challenging and personalized studies and projects. A child's dream, a teacher's dream, a principal's dream, a custodian's nightmare!


I head back to my office, also somewhat disturbed, to say the least, to be starting my day dealing with rabbit urine and mice on the loose. Without extending the courtesy of speaking with the teacher when she arrives for the day, I write the following brusque memo:


From the desk of Mr. L.
Date: 9/16/81
Time: 8:35 a.m.
To: Mrs. S.



1. The couch has to be discarded because of the rabbit urine and droppings.

2. The rabbit and cage must go home today.

3. The mice must be securely covered each night as I put one of them back into its cage at 8 a.m. and Mr. Kittle is spending time each morning on his building check chasing after mice in your classroom.


A formal appeal from Mrs. S's students


Dear Mr. L. and Mr. Kittle,

 We, Mrs. S's class, are very sad about your decision concerning our rabbit.

We feel we've been exceptionally good about keeping our classroom clean and that last night was an exception. It was an exception. It rained yesterday and BUN BUN was not able to exercise outside. This caused BUN BUN to be overly active during the night and soil the couch. (This is not his usual behavior.)

We are extremely sorry that this caused Mr. Kittle extra work and are willing to give up our recess time to help him with some of his other chores.

Two weeks ago we asked Mr. Harris to build a cage top and an outdoor cage. The outdoor cage is already completed and he is rebuilding the inside top because he made the wrong size. Also, we have moved BUN BUN to the glass cage. We accept our lost couch, realize that we have to use two dictionaries on the rat's cage, but feel the rabbit decision is rather harsh.

We are begging you for a trial week, to show that we can control BUN BUN. If during that week or thereafter the rabbit causes the slightest bit of extra work for Mr. Kittle, we will agree that he must leave our classroom.


Tracy   Seth   Rob

Ashley Tina  Lisa

David  Sarah  Heather

Matthew Kirstan  George

(BUN BUN)  Carlene  Carey

Paul   Chrissy  Judy

Jason   Mrs. S.   Mike


The decision

Time: 1:45 p.m.
Date: Same day
To: Mrs. S's Class

 I received your letter and I am willing to give your class a trial week with Bun Bun.

Mr. L.


Probation officers' reports (Messrs. Kittle/


Trial week:

Bun Bun was kept under very close supervision during this trial week. She was held and hugged often by the kids who obviously adored her, and she received plenty of exercise in the school court yard. Bun Bun passed the trial week without any infractions. No evidence of urine stains or droppings outside of her cage!


Mid year report:

Bun Bun continues to thrive under these ideal classroom conditions, living under very hygienic conditions and showing great self control, especially relating to the replacement couch.

End of year report:

Bun Bun's classroom decorum continues to receive the highest ratings from this probation officer. A classroom lottery is being held and the 4 winners will be able to take Bun Bun home for a 2 week period each during the summer vacation.

It is also recommended by this probation officer that Bun Bun be allowed to return to Mrs. S's classroom next September and live out her natural life in this rabbit friendly and human friendly environment.



  • After I had written the original memo to Mrs. S. I was annoyed with myself for having acted so impulsively and tyrannically. I look upon myself as a child centered and humanistic person who listens thoughtfully to others, values problem solving and weighs decisions carefully and sensitively. Even though I had acted like an oaf, I was not one bit surprised when Mrs. S. grasped this opportunity to turn the incident with Bun Bun into a real-life group problem solving exercise for her class as well as for all involved.


  • The letter in the text is the original wording of the letter sent to me on September 16, 1981. I wonder what these former students are doing 24 years later in their mid 30s. Might some of them be mothers or dads, animal rights activists or veterinarians, lawyers or policemen/women, environmental scientists or forest conservationists, computer mathematicians or hi-tech entrepreneurs, soldiers or musicians, poets or teachers, politicians or stand-up comics, graphic artists or small business persons, tree surgeons or neurosurgeons…?

I would love to hear from my former students (rlakin@ thanks2teachers.com) and learn about your life journey. Living in the Middle East for the past 21 years, I have concluded that life is as beautiful and as complicated as a Persian carpet!

Excerpted from:
Teaching as an Act of Love: Thoughts and Recollections
of a Former Teacher, Principal and  Kid