Vegan-at-Law: Can My Child Refuse a Classroom Dissection Assignment?


Dissection. The word alone makes me cringe, never mind the actual act of dissection. Even before my more vocal animal advocate days, dissecting animals in the classroom didn’t sit well with me. In fact, refusing to dissect a frog in my 9th grade biology class was probably my first foray into animal advocacy. That was 20 years ago (yikes!), and I still remember making that choice like it was yesterday. My teacher did not try to persuade me to change my mind; I just had to sit in the classroom next door and write a paper instead. I was joined by one or two other students that day.

There is no federal law that allows students, at all levels of education, to opt-out of dissection based upon their personal beliefs. However, there are currently 23 states that have specific dissection opt-out laws. Dissection is usually addressed within state education statutes. States with dissection-choice are:

• Arizona
• California
• Connecticut
• Florida
• Hawaii
• Illinois
• Louisiana
• Maine
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• Michigan
• Minnesota
• New Hampshire
• New Jersey
• New Mexico
• New York
• Oregon
• Pennsylvania
• Rhode Island
• Texas
• Utah
• Vermont
• Virginia

The remaining 27 states do not have any laws on the books that give students the choice to dissect or not to dissect. That is not to say that students are required to dissect in these states. Even if a state doesn’t have a dissection-choice policy or law, school districts can implement their own policies. Therefore, if your state is not on the list above, check with your school to see if they have a dissection-choice policy.

Don’t feel defeated if your state isn’t mentioned above and your school doesn’t have a policy permitting you to opt-out. The next step would be to encourage your child to talk to their teacher to ask for an alternative assignment. If that doesn’t work, you should contact the appropriate school officials. You can also start a petition to encourage your child’s school to implement an opt-out policy. Sometimes, schools aren’t aware that dissection alternatives are available and just providing them the information is all that it takes to persuade them to change their minds.

Please check out Generation Veggie’s page on dissection to learn more about dissection and the alternatives available. On our page, there are also links to several other useful resources.

My hope is that more and more students will choose to opt-out of dissection, and schools will be forced to realize that their dissection programs are only serving the few and not the many. Instead of one or two students sitting in the classroom next door writing a paper or completing some other alternative assignment, let it be that only one or two students are actually doing the dissection. And thus, eventually, schools will put an end to dissection in the classroom.

Have a question for Ashlee? Email her

Disclaimer: Although Ashlee K. Cartwright, Esq. is a licensed attorney, the content contained in this column is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the columnist and/or website publisher. If you have a question about a specific or personal legal matter, please contact a local licensed attorney.

Posted in Advice Columns, Older Kids & Teens (10-17), Vegan-at-Law

Ashlee is a mom to three vegan cuties, lawyer, and animal advocate. She has been vegan since 2010. She and her husband are in the process of starting a microsanctuary for farm animals in Orange County, NY. You can send her your questions via email.