August 1, 2014

Changes sought in CVU’s animal dissection policy

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By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Champlain Valley Union High School’s dissection policy came into the limelight during the board’s Oct. 10 meeting.

Shelburne resident Sharon MacNair, president of Green Mountain Animal Defenders, a nonprofit dedicated to animal welfare, said her volunteer efforts with students working on animal treatment issues for their CVU graduation challenges—including the school’s dissection policy—spurred her involvement.

“They really do open up to me about a lot of these issues,” she said.

While teachers have always allowed students to opt out of dissections, many still feel pressure to participate, MacNair added.

Vermont Law School student Michelle Sinnott said Green Mountain Animal Defender’s goal is to see CVU establish a policy of using digital alternatives, including free programs that allow students to virtually dissect animals.

“I think we can all agree that using alternatives is more humane, and we can all agree that the cost benefits are there,” she said, adding that the only question is whether the alternatives compare to traditional method of dissection.

“These models can accomplish (the school’s) goals just as effectively and a lot of the time more effectively than a traditional dissection lab,” Sinnott said.

Principal Sean McMannon said CVU follows the model policy provided by the state, which allows educators to decide whether to include dissections in the curriculum, and gives students the ability to opt out and use virtual tools. In the past, students at CVU have dissected frogs, cats and earthworms.

McMannon noted that there is no consensus among the science department or students on the value of dissections. Some students are opposed, while others have said it was the best learning experience they’ve had.

“At this point, I guess the position from the administrative side and from the science department would be that we are satisfied with the policy we have in front of us,” McMannon said. “Administratively, I feel comfortable with the science teachers making that decision within the policy.”

Although the board did not make a decision and will discuss the policy again when it hears a report from the school’s science department in February, board member Jeanne Jensen weighed in on the issue.

“With the level of computer graphics nowadays, I’m finding it hard to believe you actually need to dissect a cat,” Jensen said.

“If not specifically (required), I’m having trouble thinking why I would put kids through that … I can’t see how it’s really adding to their body of knowledge, it’s just how we’ve always done it.”

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