Model Laws

An Act Providing For A Student's Informed Consent to Dissection


Read Commentary


Sec. 1. Purpose

In order to respect each student's ethical and/or religious position regarding the humane treatment of animals, increase learning levels, and lower educational costs, this act requires State/County School Boards to develop a written policy to give students in the state the ability to choose an alternative to dissecting animals in the classroom.


Sec. 2. Definitions

For the purposes of this act, unless the context otherwise requires:

(a) "Animal" means any living organism, including, but not limited to, frogs, cats, fetal pigs, and earthworms, including an animal's cadaver or severed parts thereof.


(b) "Alternative education project" includes, but is not limited to, the use of video recordings, three-dimensional models, films, books, interactive simulation software and computers and assessments of knowledge that would provide an alternate avenue for obtaining the knowledge, information, or experience required by the course of study in question. "Alternative education project" also includes "alternative test."


(c) "Course of study" means required or elective coursework offered by a public or nonpublic school to students in kindergarten through grade 12.


(d) "Dissection" means the viewing of the, or act of, dismembering or otherwise destructive use of an invertebrate or vertebrae animal, in part or in whole, preserved or freshly killed, in the study of biological sciences. Animal dissection does not include fixed histological samples of any species, including, but not limited to, plain or stained microscope slides, owl pellets, human autopsy viewing, and plastinated human organs.


(e) "School" means a public or nonpublic facility for students in kindergarten through grade 12.


(f) "Student" means a public or nonpublic school pupil enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12.


(g) "Student choice policy" means a formal written policy provided to teachers, parents and students allowing students to use an alternative to dissection without any penalty for all classes in grades K-12.


Sec. 3. Student use of alternatives to animal dissection

Each County School Board shall develop a written student choice policy to permit students to be allowed to use non-animal alternatives in the classroom instead of dissecting animals or animal specimens. The policy shall include the following provisions:

(a) A student may decline to participate in or observe, wholly or in part, any of the following as part of a course of study: dissection, vivisection, incubation, infliction of harm, capture, or destruction of an animal.


(b) A student who exercises his or her right of refusal under this section must be given a suitable alternative education project designed to provide the student with the factual knowledge, information, or experience required by the course of study.


(c) A student may not be penalized or discriminated against with regard to grade, removal from class, or otherwise, for refusing to participate in or observe any activities outlined in §3 (a). Any alternative education project assigned must require no more time and effort than the actual dissection activity and a comparable grading method must be used to assess the alternative project.


(d) Each school shall notify parents and students, in writing, of the existence of this policy, incorporating it in the description of all classes that plan to use dissection as a teaching tool. Each teacher shall also notify students in a biology or life science classroom of the policy:


(i) at the beginning of each semester or quarter that a student choice policy allows them to use an alternative to dissection; and


(ii) not less than three weeks prior to any scheduled course exercise involving animals that all students have the right to refuse to take part in those activities outlined in the policy.


(e) A student must be given the opportunity to decline participation or observation of the animal-related activity on the day the activity is scheduled.


(f) Each school shall adopt the County School Board policy and notify science teachers, parents and students of the existence of the policy to ensure that students' beliefs are respected.


(g) No animals used for dissection should be on the list of threatened or endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.


(h) This Act would provide for severability of invalid provisions, if any.



Additional Commentary

This model law restates the principle that students' moral and religious beliefs should be respected and therefore they should have the right to decide whether or not to participate in or observe educational activities involving animals.


Many students face discrimination from both teachers and other students for objecting to dissection and other animal projects; some even receive lower grades because of their positions. Many more are afraid to speak up and subsequently abandon the study of science altogether. These situations occur even though there are suitable alternatives to dissection which accomplish the same level of learning and are in many instances less expensive.


It is important to honor a student's opposition to participating in dissection and vivisection as a means of classroom learning. Whether a student takes issue with educational dissection on moral or religious grounds, the choice to participate in such activities should remain with the student and alternatives should be made available to her/him. In fact, educational alternatives such as anatomical models, computer programs and many newer virtually reality interactions provide superior learning opportunities and are at the same time often less expensive than dissection specimens and equipment. DVDs, online programs and models can be more effective teaching tools insofar as exercises can be repeated and students can review information again and again, whereas dissection presents a "one-shot" approach to learning. In addition, free loans of alternatives are available through the National Anti-Vivisection Society's BioLEAP, as well as from other sources.


Unfortunately, whether student choice and alternative assignments are available is often left to an individual teacher's discretion due to lack of formal policies within schools and school boards. There are many instances of discrimination from teachers and other students against students who do not wish to participate in or observe educational dissection. Such discrimination often has negative results including lower grades, abandoned interest in the life sciences, and loss of respect for life. Codifying student choice and the availability of educational alternatives would alleviate these problems and give teachers the information and tools they need to deal with requests not to dissect.


In addition, where alternatives may be made available for students in a basic Biology class, many curricula specifically exclude upper level biology or anatomy classes from allowing the use of alternatives in those classes. In fact, the College Board's Advanced Placement Biology course description does not require dissection, although it does have as a learning objective (1.13) that "The student is able to construct and /or justify mathematical models, diagrams, or simulations that represent processes of biological evolution."


If a law or policy is enacted, it would require a state's Board of Education to implement notice procedures and provide for alternative educational materials such as animal replica models, videos, books, DVDs or other online computer learning programs. It should also require superintendents and science teachers to be informed of this law/policy so that these individuals can ensure that students are notified of their options and that teachers respect those choices.

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