A dispute over the dissection of frogs in biology class provided a slice of life of another sort Wednesday for Van Nuys High School students.
A 1960s-style picket line set up outside the school by students opposed to dissecting prompted a counter-protest by other students who used a distinctly 1980s approach.
Those against the dissection carried traditional painted picket signs and chanted slogans. Those in favor of it carried signs printed on long strips of computer paper and lectured about modern disease research.
Both sides claimed they made their point to other students and teachers watching the after-school confrontation.
Said anti-dissection marcher Earl Rose, an 18-year-old senior: "You can use simulated models of animal organs to teach biology. How would you like me to dissect you to see what you're like on the inside?"
Retorted pro-dissection demonstrator Jonathan Porter, a 17-year-old junior: "You can learn so much more about how organs work by actually looking at them. All the cures for diseases we have today have come as a result of dissection."
The 60-person protest was organized by adult leaders of several Los Angeles-area animal rights groups. They have been assisting a group of Van Nuys High students who have been opposing the traditional 10th-grade biology class practice for two months.
The activists brought a 15-year-old Victorville girl who has been embroiled in a similar frog-dissection dispute at her high school.
Jenifer Graham said none of the other 2,000 pupils at Victor Valley Union High School supported her when she refused to cut up her frog last month. She said her biology grade was dropped when she turned her back on the dissecting and did homework for another course.
"I see now that I'm not alone," Jenifer said as she watched the pickets. "You don't know how encouraging it is for me to see this."
Debra Treister, 15, who initiated the protest at Van Nuys in April, said she and a handful of other sophomores were allowed to leave their biology class during their dissection session. They went to the school library and did a research assignment instead.
"I felt I learned a lot more by doing the reading for the alternative assignment than I would have dissecting worms," Debra said.
Animal rights group director Javier Burgos of Pasadena said the Van Nuys High picketing was the first demonstration against dissection ever conducted in this country by students.
Seventeen other Los Angeles high schools have contacted his group to plan protests next year, he said. "We're asking students to teach their teachers a lesson by saying no to dissection," Burgos said.
Van Nuys High Principal Jane Godfrey said the protest will not cause her school to abandon biology class dissections.
But science teacher Dick Sheppy said he learned something about Van Nuys High students as he watched the picketing from the school's front doorway. He called the scene "a time warp."
"I'm glad to see the kids involved enough to get out and do something like this," Sheppy said.
"Some of my students are there. Maybe they'll get extra credit for standing up for what they believe in. I feel that's very important."