Are you aware that there are state laws requiring humane education be taught in your child’s school? The list of states is too short, in my opinion, but at least some states have recognized the importance of teaching our children about kindness and compassion to all living beings.
What exactly is humane education? There are three prominent non-profits that promote humane education, and each defines humane education in a slightly different way. The National Humane Education Society (NHES) says humane education, “teaches people how to accept and fulfill their responsibilities to companion animals, such as cats and dogs, and all forms of animal life. It explains the consequences of irresponsible behavior and encourages people to see the value of all living things.” The mission of Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART), another nonprofit dedicated to humane education, is “to foster compassion and respect for all living beings and the environment by educating youth and teachers in Humane Education.” The Institute for Humane Education (IHES) says, “Humane education is a lens, body of knowledge, and set of tools and strategies for teaching about human rights, animal protection, environmental stewardship, and cultural issues as interconnected and integral dimensions of a just, healthy society. Humane education not only instills the desire and capacity to live with compassion, integrity, and wisdom, but also provides the knowledge and tools to put our values into action in meaningful, far-reaching ways so that we can find solutions that work for all.”
Like the interpretation of humane education, the laws addressing humane education are not uniform and all have their nuances [Note: there is no federal law on humane education]. Some laws are very detailed and specifically mention the treatment of animals. Other laws are broad and apply their moral and humane education curriculum requirements to more than animals. Some laws are mandatory and others are voluntary. However, whether compulsory or not, most of these humane education laws do have not an enforcement mechanism, which means there really isn’t much you can do, legally, if they are not being followed by your school.
The following is a list of states that currently address humane education in their laws and statutes. [Note: I did not include any references to dissection or vivisection. The excerpts below focus solely on humane education and humane treatment of animals.]
California (California Codes, Education Code, Title 1, Division 1, Part 1, Chapter 2: Educational Equality, Article 5: Hate Violence Prevention Act, 233.5(a))
“Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government.”
Florida (Florida State Statutes, Title XLVIII: Education Code, Chapter 1003: Public K-12 Education, Section 42: Required instruction)
“(2) Members of the instructional staff of the public schools, subject to the rules of the State Board of Education and the district school board, shall teach efficiently and faithfully, using the books and materials required that meet the highest standards for professionalism and historic accuracy, following the prescribed courses of study, and employing approved methods of instruction, the following: (k) Kindness to animals”
Illinois (Illinois Compiled Statutes, Education Code, Chapter 105: Schools, 5: School Code, Article 27 Section 15: Moral and humane education)
“In institute programs. The superintendent of each region and city shall include once each year moral and humane education in the program of the teachers’ institute which is held under his supervision.”
Maine (Maine Statutes, Title 20: Education, Chapter 111: Religion and Morals, Section 1221: Teaching of virtue and morality)
“Instructors of youth in public or private institutions shall use their best endeavors to impress on the minds of the children and youth committed to their care and instruction the principles of morality and justice and a sacred regard for truth; love of country, humanity and a universal benevolence; the great principles of humanity as illustrated by kindness to birds and animals and regard for all factors which contribute to the well-being of man; industry and frugality; chastity, moderation and temperance; and all other virtues which ornament human society; and to lead those under their care, as their ages and capacities admit, into a particular understanding of the tendency of such virtues to preserve and perfect a republican constitution, secure the blessings of liberty and to promote their future happiness.”
Massachusetts (Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 272: Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency, and Good Order, Section 80G: Experiments on vertebrates; vivisection, dissection of animals; care.)
“Live animals used as class pets or for purposes not prohibited in paragraphs one and two hereof in such schools shall be housed or cared for in a safe and humane manner. Said animals shall not remain in school over periods when such schools are not in session, unless adequate care is provided at all times.”
New Hampshire (New Hampshire Revised Statutes, Title 62: Criminal Code, Chapter 644: Breaches of the Peace and Related Offenses, Section 8-c: Animal Use in Science Classes and Science Fairs)
“VII. Any live animal kept in any elementary or secondary school shall be housed and cared for in a humane and safe manner and shall be the personal responsibility of the teacher or other adult supervisor of the project or study.”
New Jersey (New Jersey Permanent Statutes, Title 18A: Education, 35-4.1: Course of study in principles of humanity)
“Each board of education may teach, by special courses or by emphasis in appropriate places of the curriculum, in a manner adapted to the ages and capabilities of the pupils in the several grades and departments, the principles of humanity as the same apply to kindness and avoidance of cruelty to animals and birds, both wild and domesticated.”
New York – (New York Education Law, Section 809: Instruction in the humane treatment of animals)
“1. The officer, board or commission authorized or required to prescribe courses of instruction shall cause instruction to be given in every elementary school under state control or supported wholly or partly by public money of the state, in the humane treatment and protection of animals and the importance of the part they play in the economy of nature as well as the necessity of controlling the proliferation of animals which are subsequently abandoned and caused to suffer extreme cruelty. Such instruction shall be for such period of time during each school year as the board of regents may prescribe and may be joined with work in literature, reading, language, nature study or ethnology. Such weekly instruction may be divided into two or more periods. A school district shall not be entitled to participate in the public school money on account of any school or the attendance at any school subject to the provisions of this section, if the instruction required hereby is not given therein. 2. Study and care of live animals. Any school which cares for or uses animals for study shall ensure that each animal in such school be afforded the following: appropriate quarters; sufficient space for the normal behavior and postural requirements of the species; proper ventilation, lighting, and temperature control; adequate food and clean drinking water; and quarters which shall be cleaned on a regular basis and located in an area where undue stress and disturbance are minimized.”
Oregon (Oregon Revised Statutes, Volume 9: Education and Culture, Chapter 336: Conduct of Schools Generally, Section 336.067: Instruction in ethics and morality)
“(1) In public schools special emphasis shall be given to instruction in: (d) Humane treatment of animals.”
Pennsylvania (Public School Code, Article XV: Terms and Courses of Study, Section 15-1514: Humane education)
“Instruction in humane education shall be given to all pupils up to and including the fourth grade, and need not exceed half an hour each week during the whole school term. No cruel experiment on any living creature shall be permitted in any public school of this Commonwealth.”
Washington (Revised Code of Washington, Title 28A: Common School Provisions, Chapter 230: Compulsory School Provisions, Section 020: Common School Curriculum)
“All common schools shall give instruction in reading, handwriting, orthography, written and mental arithmetic, geography, the history of the United States, English grammar, physiology and hygiene with special reference to the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the human system, science with special reference to the environment, and such other studies as may be prescribed by rule of the superintendent of public instruction. All teachers shall stress the importance of the cultivation of manners, the fundamental principles of honesty, honor, industry and economy, the minimum requisites for good health including the beneficial effect of physical exercise and methods to prevent exposure to and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and the worth of kindness to all living creatures and the land. The prevention of child abuse may be offered as part of the curriculum in the common schools.”
Louisiana used to have a humane education law on the books (Title 17, Section 266), but it was repealed in 2013. I was unable to find an updated version in their current laws. I am hoping that it was repealed because it used archaic terminology, mainly “dumb animals,” to refer to non-human animals. It also appears that North Dakota’s humane education law (Title 15: Education, Section 38-11) no longer exists.
One of the best places for children to begin their exploration into the scope of humane education is in elementary school. The IHES aptly declares that humane education is the only educational movement that recognizes that animals should be included in the effort to create a more peaceful and just world. While this makes a whole lot of sense to parents and children involved in animal advocacy, there are thousands of parents and children out there who have yet to make this realization.
Keep in mind that even if your state is not listed above, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your school district does not provide humane education. To find out what instruction your school gives on the topic, it is best to speak with your child’s teacher and/or principal. If they are unable to give you the answer you want, you can check out the websites listed below for more information about humane education and to see what other options you have if your school does not include humane education in their curriculum. Also, don’t let the fact that many of the laws listed above do not have enforcement mechanisms in place. If you live in one of these states and you believe your school district is not following the applicable law or statute, contact the appropriate school staff and administrators to see if there is something that can be done about it. Perhaps you can help coordinate a humane educator visiting your child’s classroom to provide a humane education lesson!
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.
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.