Dissection will remain in many K-12 biology lessons

Dissection will remain in many K-12 biology lessons

(Calif.) A bill that would have barred K-12 students from dissecting animals during science instruction narrow failed to move out of committee Wednesday after lawmakers expressed concern that it went against local control.

Education committee chair Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, as well as other lawmakers also expressed concern that taking the option to teach students using dissection could mean fewer students are inspired to pursue medical or veterinary careers.

Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose and author of AB 1586, said his bill would replace the use of ‘live’ animal dissections with an alternative advanced technology to still provide the same scientific instructional technology.

“Animal dissection has played an instrumental role in learning about anatomy in our classrooms,” according to Karla. “However, with the advancements in educational technology, educators now have the opportunity to use alternative methods for a more humane, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way to protect our students and educators from exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, and protect our environment and ecosystem.”

Animal dissection in high school biology courses has long been commonplace. In 1987, a Victor Valley, California sophomore refused to dissect a frog while enrolled in a course required for graduation, citing her moral beliefs and her mother’s religious beliefs, and sued when the school refused to let her abstain from the activity.

The following year, then-Gov. George Deukmejian signed a bill establishing the right of students to opt-out of animal dissection. Since then at least 18 other states and Washington, D.C. have enacted similar policies.

AB 1586 would have made California the first to ban animal dissection in K-12 schools.

Under the bill, students would have been prohibited from performing dissection, defined as “the viewing of, or act of, dismembering or otherwise destructive use of an invertebrate or vertebrate animal, as specified, in the study of biological sciences, excluding fixed histological samples of any species.”

Nationally, research suggests that up to 84 percent of biology teachers use dissection as a teaching tool, but legislative analysts said no research is available specific to California teachers’ practices.

According to Karla’s office, the state’s large school districts most commonly purchase frogs, fetal pigs, cows’ eyes, sheep hearts and brains, worms, squid and rats for dissection purposes.

Groups in opposition to the bill–including the California Agricultural Teachers Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Science Teachers Association–argued that banning all animal dissections prevents students the opportunity to receive a high-quality science education.

Writing in opposition of AB 1586, the California Teachers Association wrote that the bill “undermines the local decisions and authority of educators and school districts to use dissection in classroom instruction, consistent with state-adopted science standards and frameworks.”

The CTA said that it supports allowing students in grades K-12 with a moral objection to refrain from participating in dissection, and that the bill isn’t necessary given the state’s ‘opt out’ law for students.

“Educators respect their students’ beliefs and right to make an informed decision about their participation in science projects involving dissection,” the group wrote.

Several studies have shown a lack of awareness among educators of dissection opt-out policies, however. In the national study of nearly 1,200 teachers in 2015, researchers found that only 53 percent of teachers in states with opt-out laws responded that their schools had such policies, while 29 percent responded that their school did not have such a policy, and 18 percent said they did not know. The same study showed that while 90 percent of teachers indicated that less than 5 percent of students request alternatives to dissection, 14 percent of students responded that they had refused to dissect or requested an alternative.

Supporters of the bill have pointed to pedagogical, social, animal-focused, health and environmental, equity and access issues surrounding animal dissection in schools.

The animal welfare group Social Compassion in Legislation–a co-sponsor of the bill–said districts would also save money by moving toward using 3D models, digital dissection programs, or virtual reality programs instead. For a high school with 5 sections of biology and 30 students in each class, the cost of dissecting frogs is approximately $981 each year, according to the organization.

Many more modern programs, they wrote in support of the bill, “have proven to engage and educate students,” and are far less expensive. For instance, the program Digital Frog costs schools $224 as a one-time fee, and dissection applications may cost as little as $2.99 per user, the group said.

Teachers told education committee members Wednesday that such programs allow for little flexibility, however, and don’t provide the same type of learning opportunities as traditional dissection lessons.

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