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Virginia Students Can Skip Dissection Without Carving Into Their Grades

September 06, 2004|From Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Grace Kendall knew in seventh grade that she didn't want to cut open a preserved frog. Her teacher allowed her to use a computer alternative, and she has declined to dissect since.

"I thought there was something really wrong with dissecting a dead animal when I knew there were other options," she said. "Dissecting something that was killed so we could learn about it was unsettling."

Now a junior at Stafford High School, Grace is glad that Virginia has joined a handful of states that have enacted laws allowing students to opt out of dissecting fetal pigs, cats, earthworms or other animals.

Starting this academic year, all Virginia students must be told they can decline to dissect without penalty and instructors must provide them with alternative learning tools, including computer programs, Internet tutorials and plastic models.

The law has surprised some teachers, including Rebecca Ross, who teaches senior anatomy and physiology and 10th-grade biology at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke County.

"I don't think there was anybody speaking for biology teachers" when the legislation was being crafted, said Ross, president-elect of the National Assn. of Biology Teachers.

But she agreed that students with "moral, philosophical, religious or ethical" objections to dissection should be able to use alternatives.

Such materials should supplement, but not replace, dissection, said Anne Tweed, president of the National Science Teachers Assn. "They can't get the same hands-on learning."

Virginia is among nine states that require school districts to provide dissection alternatives. Florida was the first to pass such a law, in 1985, followed by California in 1988. New Jersey is also considering similar legislation.

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