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PETA hands out anti-circus materials outside school

It was just after 3 p.m. on Friday when a three-person protest group - including a woman in an elephant costume with a bloody bandage on her head - made a surprise visit to California Avenue Elementary School in Uniondale.

The group from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals handed out coloring and comic books to kids and their parents that say animals used in the circus are mistreated - 12 days before the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus makes its annual appearance at Nassau Coliseum.

"We're asking kids and parents everywhere to boycott the circus," PETA campaign organizer Amanda Fortino said outside the school. "If kids understood the abuse these animals go through, they would be very upset and wouldn't want to go to the circus."

Uniondale school district Superintendent William Lloyd said in an e-mail statement that the district provided extra security to ensure "a safe and organized dismissal of students."

Janice Aria, director for animal stewardship for Ringling Brothers, said protests in front of schools are "crude."

"It's unconscionable they would parade an agenda that is so philosophically based to schoolchildren who don't have the tools to separate what is being presented to them from what is the truth," Aria said.

It was the second straight year PETA protested in front of a Long Island elementary school over the same issue: The organization says circus trainers jab animals with spiked, metal bullhooks and beat them to make them perform difficult tricks that are confusing to them and sometimes painful.

Teachers and administrators intercepted parents as they arrived to pick up their children and guided them onto school property to alert them to what was going on.

"It would have been better if they had alerted the school properly," said Regine Francois, a mother picking up her two children. "It's not right to just show up, you could scare the children."

But Enny Rodriguez, who was picking up her son, said the method does not matter.

"The children need to know stuff even if it's painful," she said. "Whether they show up by surprise or have an assembly the children have to learn."

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