March 25, 2008
DISSECTION ALTERNATIVES FOR STUDENTS
By: Soncia Coleman, Associate Legislative Analyst
You asked for information on laws passed in other states allowing students to refrain from participating in dissections as part of a class. You were specifically interested in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.
STATES WHERE STUDENTS MUST BE OFFERED AN ALTERNATIVE TO DISSECTION
New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia all permit students to refuse to dissect animals as part of instruction and require districts to offer them some form of alternative education.
Pennsylvania, Oregon, and New Jersey require notification before the course exercise in question, with Pennsylvania specifically requiring three weeks notice and New Jersey requiring notice at the beginning of the school year. New Jersey further requires parents and students to assert their objection within two weeks of receiving the notice. Virginia requires its State Board of Education to promulgate guidelines on the notice issue (as well as other subjects).
New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, provide that students who opt out of dissections cannot be discriminated against or have their grade lowered based or their decision. (The New York language is not as specific, providing only that students cannot be “penalized.”)
Observation of Dissection and Miscellaneous Requirements
New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania also specifically permit students to opt out of observing the dissection and New York limits its provisions to students expressing a moral or religious objection to the practice and requires the objection to be substantiated in writing by a parent.
STATES THAT DO NOT REQUIRE THE OFFERING OF DISSECTION ALTERNATIVES
Florida, Illinois, and California's laws on the subject are less stringent. Florida provides that students may be excused from dissections upon the written request of a parent. California provides that a student with a moral objection to dissection can notify his or her teacher. The objection must be substantiated by the student's parents in writing. If the student chooses not to participate and if the teacher believes that an adequate alternative education project is possible, the teacher can work with the student to develop and agree on alternate project. The project cannot, as a means of penalizing the student, be harder than the original project. Additionally, a teacher's decision in determining if a pupil can pursue an alternative educational project or be excused from the project cannot be arbitrary or capricious. The student cannot be penalized for exercising his or her rights and must be made aware of them.
Similarly, Illinois law allows schools to excuse students from participating in or observing a dissection if the students object to it for any reason. Instead, the schools can allow the student to complete an alternative project that is not punitive. Students cannot be penalized or discriminated against in anyway for refusing to participate in or observe a dissection. The law requires the State Board of Education to develop guidelines to be used by the schools to provide notice to students and their parents about the courses that might require dissection and whether the school offers alternative projects. The law requires teachers to encourage students to consider college and graduate program requirements in making their decisions.
Copies of all the relevant statutes are attached for your use.