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Animals in the classroom.

Animal in the Classroom

Issues concerning the proper use of animals in the classroom setting drew considerable attention recently when a high school sophomore refused to dissect a frog in her biology class ("Apples, Frogs, and Animal Rights," Science, December 4, 1987, 1345). The matter eventually resulted in a lawsuit, grounded on the claim that the school in question had acted unconstitutionally in failing to provide the student with an alternative means of learning the pertinent material.

In light of the traditional, widespread use of animals for didactic purposes in the nation's schools, the dearth of legislation regulating the use of animals for such purposes is striking. There is no directly applicable federal legislation intended to structure and regulate the use of animals in the classroom. A similar dearth of laws exists at the state level.

At least one state has enacted legislation affecting vivisection in the school setting, however. Maine's "Regulations for the Treatment of Animals in Schools" (Maine Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Welfare, Chapter 502) govern the proper treatment of animals used for instruction in elementary and secondary schools. The stated purposes of these regulations are to establish ethical, humane standards for the treatment of animals in scientific demonstrations, to assure proper supervision of animals used in the classroom, and to establish areas of responsibility should violations occur.

In general, projects involving vertebrate animals in elementary schools, and mammals, birds (except bird eggs), and chelonians (turtles and tortoises) in secondary schools, must be restricted to measuring and studying normal physiological functions, including normal growth, activity cycles, metabolism, blood circulation, learning processes, normal behavior, and reproduction. Respect for life is to be accorded all animals maintained for educational purposes. Whenever possible, plants or invertebrate animals should be used in biological procedures involving living organisms. And animals used in school-sponsored activities must be provided with adequate food, drink, shelter, and protection from the weather.

The Maine regulations further contain specific prohibitions against exposing pupils "unnecessarily" to the killing of animals. If the killing of animals is deemed "necessary," it must be done in an approved "humane" manner, by a "qualifying" adult. Furthermore, bird eggs subjected to experimental manipulation leading to an expectation of abnormality must not be allowed to hatch.

In other states, proposed legislation concerning animal use in the schools is under active debate. In California, for instance, Assembly Bill No. 2507 has been winding its way through the legislative process. The proposed law applies only to levels of instruction from kindergarten to grade twelve.

This bill empowers any pupil with a "moral objection" to dissecting or otherwise harming or destroying animals to notify his or her teacher. If the pupil chooses to eschew participation in an educational project involving animal destruction, and if the teacher believes that an "adequate alternative education project" is possible, then the teacher must work with the pupil to develop the alternative project. "Alternative education project" is defined in the proposed law as including the use of videotapes, models, films, books, and computers, which may provide an alternate mechanism for obtaining the pertinent knowledge.

Such legislation is a step in the right direction. Careful thought should be focused on developing noninvasive alternatives to animal destruction. Members of the health professions should also assume major responsibility for educating lawmakers, and the public, about the attendant issues. In this way, perhaps the legislation eventually developed will be appropriately respectful of animal life without compromising the educational process.
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Author:Uzych, Leo
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Aug 1, 1988
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