Student Choice Policy

Student choice policies provide all students with the chance to enjoy science and express their enthusiasm for biology and other science subject's, whatever their ethical beliefs.  They permit students to choose study methods that do not involve the harming or killing of animals.  Student choice allows all students – regardless of ethical or religious beliefs – access to a high-quality education by offering alternatives to animal experiments with which they disagree.

Why have a student choice policy?

  • Many students have genuine objections to dissection and live animal exercises
  • Student choice protects freedom of ethical and religious belief
  • Students who choose alternatives receive an equivalent or better education as proven with research
  • Science teachers support student choice
  • Alternatives are widely available
  • Dissection is not legally or educationally required in Australia
  • Student choice policies prevent potentially damaging conflicts from arising over science education and assist school/university administration officials, teachers, and students in achieving the best outcome.

What should the policy include?

Student choice policies can be worded in many different ways, covering information about parental consent, modes of academic assessment, and teacher/lecturer responsibility for informing students of their right to choose.  These policies, however, do not have to be complex.  Here are the elements of a good student policy:

What type of choice? 

Student choice does not mean that students can opt out of doing their work, they are simply choosing between methods of instruction which results in a more creative and engaging learning process.

To whom does the policy apply?

The policy needs to designate which subjects and/or grades are covered.

Which animals are covered? 

Students with ethical concerns for the preservation of life are likely to apply this perspective consistently to all sentient species, so the policy should apply to all animals.

Which exercises?  

Non-harmful observational studies of wild or domestic animal behaviour will not cause concern to students and are valuable exercises in functional anatomy and behaviour.  Those that cause harm or involve dead animals should be covered by the student choice policy, as should any form of dissection, vivisection, or exercises that may cause pain or distress to animals.

What constitutes an alternative exercise?  

Alternative exercises should not require students to participate in any way in the dissection activities or harmful experimentation.  Asking students to observe others performing dissection, or letting students leave during the activity but requiring them to return to study the dissected animals, are not appropriate alternatives for those with ethical concerns for the value of animals lives.  The policy should ensure that students are not involved with the activities to which they object.

How will those not performing dissection be taught? 

Motivated students learn well by using their textbooks, but for hands-on, interactive investigative experiences, a range of CD-Roms and other alternative resources are available for all dissection exercises. 

How will students be assessed? 

Students who choose not to participate in dissection or other specified animal exercises should also not be assessed using dissected animals, as this would discriminate against their ethical and religious beliefs and academically penalise those who do not perform the animal based activity.  Many programs have assessment tools included.

How will teachers have the resources to teach all students?

Many student choice policies require teachers to familiarise themselves with non dissection teaching methods like interactive CD-Roms to ensure that all students get the same quality of teaching. HRA can help teachers achieve this by recommending resources.  Cost comparisons also show that non-dissection teaching resources are often cheaper in the long term, as they can be used repeatedly.

How will students know about the policy?

To prepare appropriate teaching resources, prevent costly waste, and ensure that students know that they can choose not to perform dissection, vivisection, or other exercises that are harmful to animals make sure the policy states that students are to be informed in advance of these activities.

When can students choose not to perform dissection? 

Advance notion of dissection classes will enable students to voice their choices early. However, some students may wait until the class to summon the courage to speak up openly and make up their minds when confronted with the exercise.  It is therefore important that students have the option to choose not to dissect, even on the day of the exercise.  Accordingly, students should not be required to submit their concerns by a specific date prior to the exercise.

Should the policy require written parental consent?

Parental consent may ensure that the parent is comfortable with the student's choice and the student is serious.  However, the student may have strongly held ethical or religious beliefs that are not shared by the parent or the student may for other reasons be unable to obtain consent.  The student's own ethical values should have primary consideration.  Many student choice polices therefore do not require parental consent, particularly when the policy specifically states that equivalent quality of teaching methods will be used, with, or without dissection.

Sample policy

Students at <Insert School name or district> may choose not to perform vivisection, dissection, or educational or experimental exercises on animals that may cause the animals pain, distress, injury, death, or other harm.

This policy includes exercises involving all animals in the Kingdom Animalia, including body parts of these animals and the living embryos of these species (eg unhatched chicks).

Students who choose not to perform the specified activity will be provided with an alternative educational exercise of a similar level of academic difficulty as the animal based activity.  The responsibility for creating an alternative lies with the teacher not the student.

Students who choose not to participate in dissection, vivisection, or other animal-related activities will not be required to observe the exercise or to participate in studies of previously dissected or vivisected animals.

Student assessment will not utilise dissection or vivisection activities that may cause harm or distress to subject animals.  All students will receive a test of a similar level of difficulty, whatever method of instruction is used.

Teachers will familiarise themselves with alternative resources such as computer simulations, appropriate to the course of instruction in which they are engaged.

Students will be informed in writing and verbally of any animal based laboratory class at least three weeks prior to the date of the class.  Students will also be informed of the student choice policy at the time of the laboratory class.

Students will not be penalised or ostracised in any way for choosing the alternative exercise.

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