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Introducing Student Choice Laws

As the number of students objecting to dissection grows (and the benefits of non-animal alternatives become even more evident), a groundswell of change is clearly emerging. More school districts across the country are implementing student choice policies, more states are enacting student choice laws or policies, and more colleges, universities and medical schools are voluntarily eliminating live animal labs in favor of innovative alternatives. These new laws, policies and procedures (which NAVS is working to make universal) guarantee the right of students who have moral or other objections to dissection to utilize alternatives without being penalized.

The Distinction Between Law and Policy

Student choice laws protecting public school students’ right to choose alternatives must be enacted by each state’s legislature. Typically, student choice laws require public elementary, middle and high schools to notify students and/or their parents if a forthcoming course includes dissection, and to allow students the option of engaging in a humane alternative without penalty. Unfortunately, current laws do not apply to all private schools, colleges or universities and the laws do not clearly define an appropriate alternative method or project. A student choice law is very clear and easy to enforce as notifying a school of the law is usually sufficient to end any student harassment if the school is not abiding by the law.

Formal student choice policies may be adopted by a state Board of Education, at the individual school or school district level. State Board of Education policies generally direct local school districts to adopt guidelines for allowing students to opt-out of dissection, while local policies can be developed for a specific school or school district, but apply only to that entity. A board of education or local policy is easier to change and may be more difficult to enforce because the terms may not be as clearly defined.

Yet even in states where student choice laws have been passed or student choice polices have been adopted, students and parents should be vigilant in protecting the rights that these laws and policies ensure. The reason? Many educators are not even aware of prevailing laws and policies (much less how to implement them). Once a school has been notified that they are obligated to follow an existing law or policy—and are given a copy of the relevant law or policy—a student’s choice not to dissect should be easy to respect.

If you, as a student, parent or teacher, object to your school’s policies (or your state’s lack of student choice laws), you can access the resources to reshape the way science is taught. And NAVS is here to help you advance better, more humane science education.

Implementing a Student Choice Policy

While a rapidly growing number of educators and school districts are allowing dissection alternatives, refusing to participate in a dissection assignment can still be an arduous battle for students. As part of our commitment to advancing humane science education, NAVS provides valuable resources to help students, teachers and parents implement student choice policies in their own school districts. Visit www.navs.org/BioLEAP to learn more.