Dear Superintendents and Principals:

As you prepare for another successful school year, where all students will have the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential academically, socially, and morally, New York State Humane Association (NYSHA) would like to remind you about a mandated state law and provide you with resources that will assist you in complying with your legal obligation to your students.

According to Education Law 809: “Any [public school] student expressing a moral or religious objection to the performance or witnessing of the dissection of an animal, either wholly or in part, shall be provided the opportunity to undertake and complete an alternative project that shall be approved by such student’s teacher; provided, however, that such objection is substantiated in writing by the student’s parent or legal guardian. Students who perform alternative projects who do not perform or witness the dissection of animals shall not be penalized.”

Furthermore, “The board of education or trustees of a school district shall develop a policy to give reasonable notice to all students enrolled in a course that includes the dissection of an animal and students’ parents or legal guardians about their rights under this subdivision. Such notice shall be made available upon request at the school and distributed to parents and students enrolled in a course that includes dissection at least once at the beginning of the school year.”

For students wishing to opt out of dissection there are many alternatives available. In fact, research shows that using CDs, DVDs, and models, provides positive results. Students focus on the study at hand and are not distracted by conflicting emotions that often go along with animal dissection. Dissection alternatives are not only cost effective, but also offers common learning for all students where tasks can be repeated. As reported by the organization, Animals in Science, 92% of students perform better or equivalently with non-animal alternatives to dissection.

The idea that students learn better without the emotional distraction often accompanied with dissection, is supported by a paper published in the American Society for Cell Biology Life Sciences Education CBE journal. Researcher Hummel Randler, writes “In elementary students, (Randler, et al. (2005) found that children who were less anxious for amphibians had significantly higher knowledge scores than more anxious ones.”

Noting several other studies, Randler goes on to affirm that “Virtual alternatives (such as virtual dissection simulations, three-dimensional models, palatinate specimens, videos, etc.) can be equivalent for gaining knowledge about anatomy and physiology and are sometimes superior to real dissection in middle and high school (Youngblut, 2001; Kopec, 2002; Maloney, 2005; Montgomery, 2008; Lalley et al., 2010).

Attached is a sample “Student Choice: Dissection” letter to be sent home to parents and guardians at the beginning of the school year, as well as a “Dissection Opt-Out” form for students and their parents to sign. In addition, you’ll find these websites provide free, or affordable, resources for alternatives to dissection: The Science Bank; Animals in Science; New England Anti-Vivisection Society; and AnimaLearn.

NYSHA is happy to assist as your district makes the transition from animal dissection to alternative dissection. Here is a useful video showing how other schools are making the change.

For more information about NYSHA, please visit our website, New York State Humane Association. We are committed to providing you with any guidance you may need to meet the New York State requirement for alternative learning modules, which serve both students and animals.

NYSHA Board of Directors

For your convenience:

Sample letter to parents or guardians regarding choice of opting out: Student Choice: Dissection

Form to opt out: Alternative to Animal Dissection Opt-Out Form