Students in Middletown NJ Schools Can Now Skip Dissection
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By Jennifer Bradshaw on February 2010

Students at Middletown schools soon will have the right to opt out of dissecting animals in science classes, with the revision of an existing policy that will permit students to decline any assignments using animal cadavers.

Schools Superintendent Karen Bilbao said students who did not want to participate in dissection were already given the option to refuse and would be given an alternative assignment.

This proposal would update the district's policy book and formalize the practice. Once adopted by the Board of Education, it also would mirror the state's policy on dissection.

"There is rarely an issue, though, because the students work in pairs or groups in the labs,'' Bilbao said.

The board introduced the policy on Dec. 16 and will be adopted by the board at a later date, possibly with revisions.

The addition to the policy reads:

A pupil in kindergarten through grade twelve may refuse to dissect, vivisect, incubate, capture, or otherwise harm or destroy animals or any parts thereof as part of a course of instruction. In the event the school program will require any such activities, the school will notify the pupil and parent(s) or legal guardian(s) at the beginning of each school year of the right to decline participation in such activities.

The parent or guardian then must respond within two weeks of the district notification of their child's right to opt out, and the student then would be given an alternative assignment, without being penalized in any way, the addition said.

According to the state Department of Education, the last legislative changes for dissection occurred in January 2006.

The Freehold Regional High School District already had a similar policy on the books, from 2001, but in its policy, parents who find dissection ""morally, conscientiously, or religiously offensive'' can send a letter to the school principal for their child to opt out. Those students then will receive an alternative assignment.

Brick schools also use a policy based on the 2006 mandate, Superintendent Walter Hrycenko said.

Students can opt out, but the majority choose to participate in the activity, he said.

"Those students who are less interested in the actual dissection usually participate as a recorder (with a dissecting partner) instead of opting for the alternative assignment,'' he said.

At Brookdale Community College in Middletown, dissection is still a widely used instructional technique and a more effective teaching tool than any simulation programs, instructor Sally Cohen said.

At Brookdale, students who do not want to dissect can choose not to in the beginner biology course but must find another way to learn that information, Cohen said.

"It's not fun and very hard to do sometimes, but it is a necessary part of the course,'' she said.

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