The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, February 10, 1996            TAG: 9602100258
SECTION: LOCAL                    PAGE: B3   EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: VIRGINIA BEACH                     LENGTH: Medium:   60 lines


A small band of people wearing animal costumes and waving placards outside an elementary school Friday morning hinted at things to come, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals held its first local protest since announcing it would move its headquarters to Norfolk this spring.

The ``elephant'' had difficulty walking because the legs of her plush costume were too long, but the PETA staffer inside it waved and waved as school buses rolled into Strawbridge Elementary School.

PETA targeted Strawbridge because the mother of a student there objected to the plans of her son's class to attend a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and because a circus-themed curriculum was being used to teach language arts. Norma Reyes brought her children, ages 10 and 6, to protest the circus because, she said, ``That's animal exploitation that the school should not be supporting.''

Strawbridge staff did not hinder the protest or object when the demonstrators - who numbered about 10 - moved off the sidewalk to hand stickers and PETA literature to children getting off buses.

Dr. Anne Meek, executive assistant to the superintendent and spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach school system, said: ``Protesters are free to demonstrate about any issue as long as they are not disrupting instruction. We understand PETA's right to demonstrate, to persuade people, to advance their own arguments.

``What our students need right now is time in classes. We've been disrupted by snow days, we've been terribly distracted by budget problems. We need to get in school.''

She said that protesters are usually not allowed on school property, but may remain on city property.

PETA claims that circus animals are often abused and forced to live in cramped quarters, performing unnatural tricks out of fear. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, whose circus will arrive in Hampton Roads Feb. 21, vigorously denies the charges.

Reyes said she would take her son out of circus-themed classes and teach him herself in the school library.

A second parent, Ann Burky, whose son attends Red Mill Elementary School, also joined the protesters. ``I think the circus is sending the children a terrible message,'' she said. ``There are so many other worthwhile places the school could take the children - Nauticus, the planetarium.''

PETA protested at Red Mill as school let out Friday afternoon.

PETA, which champions animal rights around the world, hopes to finalize its purchase of a Norfolk building on the same day the circus opens locally. The group is now headquartered in suburban Washington. ILLUSTRATION: JIM WALKER/ The Virginian-Pilot

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protests at Red Mill

Elementary School on Friday. From left: Margaret Thompson, Victoria

Barbee, Dorian Reyes, Melynda Duval and Bobbi A. Hoffman.