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Friday, March 28, 2014

NH policy aimed at students who don’t want to work on animals

CONCORD – Dissection is a science lesson that some students never forget, but for others, the prospect of prying open a frog or peering at the innards of a small mammal can be a source of angst.

Many schools provide alternatives for students who don’t want to participate in a dissection or vivisection, but the state Board of Education took steps this week to highlight best practices for allowing students to opt out. ...

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CONCORD – Dissection is a science lesson that some students never forget, but for others, the prospect of prying open a frog or peering at the innards of a small mammal can be a source of angst.

Many schools provide alternatives for students who don’t want to participate in a dissection or vivisection, but the state Board of Education took steps this week to highlight best practices for allowing students to opt out.

The board adopted a sample policy Wednesday regarding students who choose not to harm or kill animals. The policy isn’t a new mandate, but it provides a set of guidelines to help school districts in New Hampshire develop their own policies around the issue.

The policy stresses that schools should make alternative lessons available to dissection or experimentation with animals, and that students shouldn’t be penalized in any way for choosing not to participate. It states that alternative activities should have equal educational value and academic rigor.

“An activity in which living or dead animals are viewed, cut, killed, inspected, touched, handled, preserved, mounted, or
otherwise manipulated in ways which may cause harm to them, is a potential source of ethical conflict or sensitivity that may adversely affect student learning,” the sample policy states. “This policy provides an opportunity for students to replace such instructional activities with choices that are more engaging for them without loss of academic value.”

The guidelines suggest enacting a policy to cover all courses involving life science curriculum that use living or dead animals. The sample policy allows all students in kindergarten through grade 12 to choose alternatives.

Alternatives are expected to be comparable in depth and scope, the policy stipulates, and grades should not be affected by a student’s choice to ask for a different assignment.

“Alternative activities should not be more difficult, or require more work or time than the original activity with which the student had ethical conflicts,” the policy states.

The guidelines direct teachers to inform students on the first day of class that they can ask for alternatives. Teachers also are encouraged to include alternatives to dissection and vivisection in their curriculum and syllabi.

The sample policy recommends making teachers responsible for choosing activities that meet the same objectives as the original lesson. Some options include computer simulations, models, videos, and charts.

The sample policy provides a list of online resources for simulated dissections of frogs, fish, rabbits, pigeons, fetal pigs, cats, cow eyes, sheep organs and invertebrates.

Although dissection is widely used in high schools across the state, not all have drafted specific guidelines for students who might prefer a different lesson.

Milford School District Superintendent Robert Suprenant said in 10 years, he couldn’t recall district-wide discussions on the topic. He said he would be open to exploring the state’s new sample policy.

“I’d always welcome a discussion on something,” he said.

Hudson School District Superintendent Bryan Lane said he could only remember one example of a student who objected to a dissection lesson in 16 years.

While Hudson has no formal policy regarding the issue, Lane said the district would look to provide alternative assignments for students who have religious beliefs that conflict with dissection or other potential discomfort with the situation.

“At this point, we don’t really have an issue, and again, it is our practice to create alternate educational opportunities for students when there is a legitimate concern,” he said.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).