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Crime-and-courts
Twin Falls teacher accused of raping teen

TWIN FALLS — A teacher in the Twin Falls School District has been arrested and accused of rape.

Jason Lee Benjamin, 39, of Twin Falls, was arrested Thursday by the Twin Falls Police Department. He is accused of rape under a statute that applies when a victim is 16 or 17 years old and the perpetrator is at least three years older.

Benjamin has worked at Twin Falls schools for 12 years, according to district spokeswoman Eva Craner. He began as a teacher at Robert Stuart Middle School in the 2005-06 school year. After one year at Robert Stuart, he moved to Twin Falls High School, where he taught from 2006 until 2009.

He worked at Canyon Ridge High School from 2009 to 2017, before returning to Robert Stuart this school year as a math teacher.

It’s not clear whether the alleged victim was a student, or when and where the alleged rape occurred. Benjamin was not arraigned on Thursday, meaning police documents to support the arrest weren’t publicly available.

Police referred questions to Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs, who said late Thursday he had still not received all the paperwork from police and could not comment.

While teaching math at Canyon Ridge, Benjamin also served as an assistant coach for the track and cross country teams. He had a contract to be assistant track coach again this year, Craner said.

He has been placed on administrative leave by the Twin Falls School District. The district says it is unaware of any allegations of misconduct occurring on school property.

A search of Idaho court records revealed a pending divorce filed by Benjamin’s wife, but no criminal history.


Local
Tossing out your Christmas tree? Make sure it's cut and bundled

TWIN FALLS — As you were tossing out those empty boxes and wrapping paper, you may have noticed a light blanket of needles covering your floor. It may already be time to pack away those ornaments and haul the Christmas tree out.

But if you shove the whole thing in the trash bin or leave it at the curb on garbage day, don’t be surprised to find it’s still there when you get home. That’s because the city’s garbage collector — and many private waste disposal companies — have rules for Christmas tree and yard waste dumping all year round.

“Generally, you can’t throw the tree onto the curb,” Twin Falls Utilities Billing Director Bill Baxter said. “Some people still do.”

Here are a few things you need to know:

1. Three-foot lengths

Twin Falls used to accept whole Christmas trees, Baxter said, but the city had to stop because it would take the street department days to take them to the dump.

PSI Environmental, the city’s contractor, as well as Western Waste Services Inc., require customers to cut trees into 3-foot lengths before being placed in the trash bin.

“PSI will take it if they can fit it in the can,” Baxter said.

You should also make sure the tree branches aren’t too bushy; if the sections won’t slide out of the bin easily when it’s tipped into the garbage truck, they’ll be left behind. For PSI, this applies to both the 35-gallon and 95-gallon carts.

2. Extra bags or trash cans

If you’re a resident of Twin Falls using PSI’s standard 95-gallon blue cart, the company allows for year-round collection of extra containers or bags next to the cart — at no extra cost, Baxter said.

If you choose to set your tree outside of the cart, it still has to be cut into those 3-foot lengths and either bundled or bagged, Baxter said. There is a 35-pound weight limit for each bag or bundle, and they still have to be able to fit inside the cart.

PSI allows for up to eight extra bags containing permitted trash or yard waste, Baxter said.

If you choose to set out an additional rubber trash container that you bought yourself, the trash may weigh no more than 50 pounds and needs to be able to fit inside the larger blue cart.

3. Can’t cut it?

If you don’t have the time or resources to cut your tree down to the proper size, you can take the whole thing to the Twin Falls County transfer station on Orchard Drive. You’ll have to pay a standard $5 fee, but for that you can dump up to 1,000 pounds of waste.

At the transfer station, you can’t put Christmas trees in the green waste area, Southern Idaho Solid Waste Executive Director Josh Bartlome said. Many people leave lights and ornaments — even mistakenly — on their trees, and those can’t be ground up.

If you’re in an apartment or rental, find out who your landlord’s waste contractor is and follow its regulations.


Education
A Twin Falls teacher brings his international experiences to the classroom

TWIN FALLS — After 17 years in Japan, I.B. Perrine Elementary School teacher Rob Weaver brings some non-traditional lessons into his classroom.

The last week of each school year, his Twin Falls fifth-graders participate in a “Japanese Week,” where they learn about the language, food and culture.

There are also connections back to south-central Idaho, such as the history of the Minidoka Relocation Center near Eden, one of 10 internment camps where Japanese-Americans were forced to live in the 1940s following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Weaver’s students also talk seriously about college and ways to better themselves to achieve their goals. In Japan, students decide early what they want to do as a career.

Students in Japan have a leg up — but only in some ways, Weaver said. “Academically and physically, they are heads and shoulders above our kids.”

But their maturity level and ability to make decisions is way behind their U.S. counterparts, he said. “If we can get a balance of both, that would be ideal.”

Beyond academic lessons, Weaver — who has taught at Perrine Elementary since 2014 — said the main thing he brings to his classroom as a result of his time in Japan is acceptance of others.

“Even though I was there as long as I was, I was always a foreigner,” he said.

In Weaver’s classroom, there’s significantly more diversity than when he was a child growing up in Twin Falls. He has seven non-Caucasian students, including refugees from around the world.

The journey from

Twin Falls to Japan

Weaver, who grew up in the Magic Valley, remembers playing in an open field and with frogs in a nearby ditch where Perrine Elementary is now. The school hadn’t been built yet.

He graduated from Twin Falls High School in 1989. His first experience teaching was as a survival instructor for nine months in Utah through the Challenger Foundation.

Then, he served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Japan, where he became immersed in the culture. After growing up in conservative Idaho, he said, it was an eye-opening experience.

While Weaver was in Japan, he often extended a loose invitation to those he met to come visit him in the United States. One woman, who he didn’t know well, decided to visit after he returned home.

“After she came the second time, I asked ‘Why are you really here?’” Weaver said. As it turns out, she was interested in him.

After returning home from his mission, Weaver went to college. He and the woman wrote letters back-and-forth almost every day for a year. They later got married and decided to move to Japan.

Weaver taught in Japan in two stints over the years. The first part was in Osaka, the second in Miyazaki.

Weaver said one of his high school teachers inspired him to become an educator. “It takes one teacher to inspire you to do something,” he said.

His first teaching job in Japan was for a school of languages for about six years. He already knew someone working there. “A friend said ‘Hey, you should come work for us,’” Weaver said, so he did.

It wasn’t a traditional school setting, though, and he didn’t work with children. He worked with companies such as Mitsubishi, teaching their executives how to speak English.

After moving back to the U.S., Weaver took a break from education and spent three-and-a-half years as a stock broker for Edward Jones. “Right when I was going full commission, the tech bubble burst,” he said.

Weaver shifted gears again — this time, to teaching in the College of Southern Idaho’s English as a Second Language program. He also worked for the state providing intensive behavioral intervention for children who have autism.

He and his wife made the decision once again to return overseas. He spent almost 10 years there during the second stint, including teaching immersion kindergarten and opening his own school.

Weaver opened and operated a cram school, Yellowstone English School, for about six years. The biggest challenge was getting the equivalent of a green card in order to buy property. He bought a building and converted the first floor into a school.

It was a cooking, conversation and cram school. Cram schools are big in Japan, Weaver said. It’s supplemental to a student’s regular education, but it’s often viewed as an expectation for children to attend.

Students attend cram school anywhere from 3 p.m. to midnight to receive instruction in a variety of subjects. Children complete “kill and drill” worksheets until they demonstrate mastery of a concept, Weaver said.

If students don’t get into a good preschool, that can lead to a ripple effect for the rest of their education. And if students can score well on tests, they have a chance of getting into a good high school and university.

If a teacher has a student get into one of Japan’s most prestigious universities, it means they’ll get more students, Weaver said.

His own four children went through the Japanese education system. His daughter was on track to get into prestigious universities and her teacher begged her to stay in the country. But after Weaver and his wife got divorced, he decided to move the family back to the United States in 2010 after getting rare sole custody of his children after a two-year process in Japan.

Back in Twin Falls, Weaver had a decision to make. His teaching credential wouldn’t be recognized, and he was deciding whether to return to college or pursue an alternate route to certification.

He enrolled in Idaho State University’s Twin Falls bachelor’s degree program in elementary education and graduated in 2014.

Halfway through his student teaching at Perrine — in the same classroom he’s in now — he was hired to teach fifth-grade at Lincoln Elementary School. That was a result of the statewide teacher shortage.

Now, as a teacher back at Perrine, his experiences in Japan are never far from his mind. He said they transformed him as a person: “Teaching in Japan has helped me be better in a lot of things.”


If you do one thing

If you do one thing: The Twin Falls Public Library hosts a “Between the Eves” family event with games, crafts, treats and a movie from 3 to 5 p.m. at 201 Fourth Ave. E. Free.


Rahmat Gul 

Two women console a man outside a hospital following a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. Authorities say attackers stormed the Shiite Muslim cultural center in the Afghan capital Kabul, setting off multiple bombs and killing dozens. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)