Friday, March 12, 2010

Policy coming on dissection in schools

Policy coming on dissection in schools
By Wanda Chow - Burnaby

Published: February 24, 2010 3:00 PM

Burnaby school board agreed in a 3-2 vote Tuesday to create a formal policy giving students a choice if they don’t want to perform animal dissections in high school science classes.

The move came after a presentation by animal rights advocate Lesley Fox and representatives from the BC SPCA.

In an earlier interview, Fox, of, said she remembers being troubled in Grade 10 after having to dissect a pig fetus.

“I knew this animal was killed specifically for the purpose of me and my friends to cut it up. It didn’t make me feel good.”

Fox, now 35, also didn’t like how some classmates disrespected the dead animal, throwing parts around the room and goofing off.

“It’s all kind of like playtime, and then it all goes into the garbage.”

By the time she had to dissect a frog in Grade 12, she had the strength to speak up and refuse the assignment. She ended up in the library, researching and drawing diagrams about the subject instead.

Still, “it’s not easy to be singled out.”

So when her website received emails last fall from two Burnaby high school students seeking advice on how to avoid the dissection assignments, she figured it was time to seek a formal policy on the matter in the district.

Students told Fox the current practice, of giving students a choice, really depends on whether a particular science teacher is open to it. If they’re not, students are too intimidated to speak out, she said. That will continue until a formal policy is in place to back up the students.

Fox advocates for alternatives, such as computer software programs that simulate dissections, and noted that less than one per cent of high school students go on to medical or veterinary schools and actually derive a direct benefit from the dissection experience. And even universities are starting to move away from dissecting real animal specimens.

Despite that, Fox stressed that a policy in high schools doesn’t exclude anyone from performing dissections as usual. It simply gives alternatives to those who have concerns with it.

Currently, such policies are in place in schools in Vancouver, Kelowna, Toronto and in some districts in Nova Scotia.

Board chair Diana Mumford and trustee Tony Coccia opposed the Burnaby motion which was supported by trustees Baljinder Narang, Ron Burton and James Wang. Trustee Gary Wong and board vice-chair Larry Hayes were absent.

Mumford said she did not support it because students she spoke with at the District Student Advisory Committee told her it was a non-issue and that they already knew they had a choice. District staff also told her it wasn’t an issue.

She was particularly opposed to having a group from outside the district wanting to create policy in Burnaby schools.

“I guess I was disturbed that we ... weren’t trying to do this because of people in our community and need in our community. It was an outside issue.

“You can create a lot of policy that will never see the light of day.”

Earlier article:

Monday » March 8 » 2010

Frog letter kicks off discussion

Animal rights activist wants school district to put dissection policy in writing

Jennifer Moreau

Burnaby Now

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alternatives: Lesley Fox shows off some virtual dissection software.

CREDIT: Contributed photo/BURNABY NOW

If Burnaby students have the option to opt out of dissecting animals in science class, animal rights advocate Lesley Fox wants the school board to put it in writing.

"A lack of policy means anything goes. I've seen it happen, I know it happens," Fox said in an interview with the NOW.

Fox is a Vancouver resident who runs a website called Frogs Are Cool. She is also a certified humane educator with the Humane Society of the U.S. She has been campaigning to get school districts to adopt a student choice policy when it comes to dissecting animals.

Fox said she was contacted by a couple of Burnaby students through her website, students who had concerns about dissection and asked her to help bring in a policy. Both students were completely unaware that dissection alternatives existed, Fox said.

She wrote a letter to the Burnaby school board, urging them to adopt a student choice policy, but superintendent Claudio Morelli reported back saying all Burnaby schools give students alternatives to dissection if they don't want to do it.

Fox was concerned that even though this may be the practice, there is no written policy, and students are often unaware that they have other options.

"I firmly believe a student choice policy is needed. Choice isn't a choice unless you know you have one," she said, adding it's "really nice" that the district feels students can opt out. "(But,) until kids know they have a choice, as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist."

The problem, according to Fox, is in the absence of any official policy, individual teachers could decide to fail a student or force them to participate, for example.

Fox had not heard of any case in Burnaby of this happening, but she said it could be a possibility.

"Until you have a policy in place, sure, all of those things could happen," she says. "That's why a student choice policy is important."

Students often dissect frogs or fetal pigs - animals that Fox said come from a biological supply company. They are bred and killed solely for the purpose of dissection and embalmed in chemicals.

Her ultimate goal is to stop dissection in schools and let students use computer programs or plastic models instead.

School board chair Diana Mumford said if students object to dissecting animals, there are other things they can do and they won't be penalized for it.

Mumford said they sent Fox a letter saying they have reviewed the process, spoken to principals and that trustees are confident students can chose not to dissect. As for Fox's speculation that they may face retribution, Mumford said, "that information is totally false."

"We give our students choice, and this is what we do, this is our district," she said.

Mumford said she met with the district's student advisory committee, which has student representatives from all schools, and asked them about it. They reported no problems with students opting out of dissection and no cases of retribution.

"That's not the kind of thing that happens in Burnaby. I have a real problem with her 'could' - that doesn't make it fact. 'Could' is just her supposition, not fact," Mumford added.

Mumford also said her comments reflect her own opinions only, not that of the board, as the issue is still up for discussion.

© Burnaby Now 2010

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