Whether you’re an animal lover or you simply find animal dissections gross, you shouldn’t have to dissect an animal at school if you don’t want to. Importantly, you aren’t alone in not wanting to participate in animal dissections – some of your classmates might feel the same way but are too anxious to speak up!
It can be distressing if you love animals and are made to participate in school activities that harm them. Or you may be uneasy thinking about the dead body you’re supposed to cut open, the smells or liquids coming out. Religious concerns can also force you to choose between participating in the school activity or staying true to your values.
We’ve created this page especially for students to help inform them about:
- Our survey into how animals are used for teaching purposes at NZ schools.
- The risks avoided and benefits gained when students are able to use animal-free alternatives.
- How students can get out of dissection classes, including letter templates to your school.
- Ways we can help.
From June to July 2021, we conducted a nationwide survey about animal use in NZ schools (from primary to high schools). We wanted to understand better which types of animals are used, how they are used, and how confident schools are with the current animal welfare laws and regulations.
From the participating schools (46.8%), we learnt that there is:
- An urgent need for teachers and school administrators to be educated about the current laws and regulations in NZ.
- A lack of awareness around the availability and teaching value of alternative and animal-free teaching methods.
- 14.7% of surveyed schools use live animals.
- 16.6% use animal dissections.
- 94.1% allow students to opt-out, leaving 5.9% where students cannot refrain from dissections.
Find out more in our news article.
You may feel you have to participate in assignments, even if you have objections, and the theoretical option of refusing and peer pressure can also play a role in that.1 Teachers are important influences in your life, almost as much as your whānau,2 so to stand up to them or to feel like you let them down can be difficult.
This can stir up negative emotions that impact your mental well-being and your academic performance.3 You might even question if you are “tough enough” for a scientific career.4 But science needs compassionate people who don’t do something just because it has “always been this way.”
Animal-free teaching methods avoid these moral dilemmas and are even outperforming traditional animal dissections in their learning effect.5 For details and examples on this, have a look at our resources for parents.
Many different tools can be used in place of animal dissections to teach students about anatomy and physiology. These include anatomical models, virtual dissections and anatomy apps, augmented reality tools and more!
- Encouraging kindness and empathy towards animals.
- Creating a safer, more inclusive learning space for students.
- Encouraging future scientists to be compassionate.
- Enabling better learning outcomes for students.
Learn more about the benefits of kind education.
In the US, several states have enshrined the right to refuse animal dissections in their educational laws.6 This is not the case in New Zealand, but as we mentioned above, most schools allow you to opt-out. You may have to ask for it directly.
The Code & Standards of the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand7 has your kaiako committed to:
- Providing high-quality and effective teaching.
- Promoting the well-being of learners and protecting them from harm.
- Engaging in ethical and professional relationships with learners.
- Promoting inclusive practices to support the needs and abilities of all learners.
- Being fair and effectively managing my assumptions and personal beliefs.
- Promoting and protecting the principles of human rights, sustainability and social justice.
So, if you feel safe approaching your teacher(s), a personal talk about your concerns and their options to support you can do wonders.
The United Nations “Convention on the Rights of the Child” states the following:8
- You have the right to a good quality education that helps you develop your personality, talents and abilities to the full. You and your values should be treated with respect. Discipline in schools should respect your dignity.
- The government should ensure that where you access education, this is done in a way that supports you to achieve.
If your school is a state school, your guardian (or you if you are over 16 years old) can make a request to release you from a particular class or subject based on religious or cultural views. This is part of the law, specifically the New Zealand Education and Training Act 2020, Article 50.9
- This article only covers state schools.
- The request must be in writing at least 24 hours before the start of the activity.
- The request must be considered by the principal, and the principal has to find out the student’s view on the matter.
It can be challenging to stand up to authority figures. It helps to have your facts ready and have solutions you can point them to.
- We made special resources for teachers, with many alternative options and ways they can access them.
- We made special resources for parents with lots of scientific evidence of alternative methods being equal to or superior to the harmful use of animals in teaching.
- You can also point your teachers to these resources if the alternative option at your school is sitting in the hallway with a book. There are plenty of free or low-cost options if money is an issue (dissection equipment is expensive, by the way, so they might actually save money using alternatives).
If all else fails, you can write a complaint to the School Board. The Board is the employer of all teachers of your school, including the principal, and they make all the policies. They are legally required to deal with complaints. This will have more weight if more people sign the complaint. Please try and find out the “Complaints Policy” at your school, as there are often rules around this. For example, you may only be allowed to file a complaint with the Board if you tried talking to the principal first.
Students under the age of 16
You will need the support of your guardian to make requests to the school if talking to them is not working. You can still write to the School Board.
If writing directly to the principal or School Board is too intimidating, you can write to your science/biology teacher. Something like this:
Kia ora [teacher name],
You announced that we will do animal dissection in class. I value your knowledge as a teacher, and I am eager to learn. But I do not want to do animal dissections. It is not compatible with my ethics to use animals in this harmful way. There is also scientific evidence that being pressured into doing dissections can have a negative impact on mental health and well-being.
I can provide resources about alternative methods, which in most cases have equal or superior learning outcomes compared to dissections. You can have a look at a summary website here: https://www.nzavs.org.nz/kind-education
I know teachers do important mahi for us, and that you are working hard to adhere to the Code & Standards of the Teaching Council.
Thank you for taking my concerns seriously and treating my personal beliefs fairly.
Ngā mihi mahana,
A letter to the School Board could look like this:
Tēnā koe [school name] Board,
My name is [name], and I am a student in year [year] at [school name]. We were told that there is going to be a dissection class.
I am deeply concerned about this. Many scientific studies show that students can learn equally well or even better without using animals. Performing dissections excludes students with religious or philosophical constraints from learning. There are also studies showing a negative impact on student well-being and emotions.
I do not want to participate in the harmful use of animals, and I urge you to consider implementing alternative methods instead.
If needed, I can provide the studies mentioned as well as a list of alternative resources.
I appreciate your understanding.
Ngā mihi mahana,
A written request to release a student from dissection activities could be worded like this (this needs to come from the student’s guardian if they are under 16):
Tēnā koe dear principal [name],
I noticed that the school has animal dissections as part of [child’s name]’s curriculum this term. [He/She/They] has strong ethical concerns about this activity and does not want to act against the moral values we hold as a family.
Under the Education and Training Act 2020, Article 50, I request for my child [child’s name] to be released from dissection activities based on our cultural views. [Child’s name] will be able to confirm when you speak to [him/her/them].
We would also love for you to consider replacing animal dissections with alternative teaching methods that are proven to have equal or better learning outcomes. For more information on such methods, I recommend the Kind Education pages of NZAVS. https://www.nzavs.org.nz/kind-education
Ngā mihi mahana,
A complaint to the School Board should include your details, details about the subject (you can copy from the other Board letter above), and the fact that this is a complaint. The exact form will depend on your school’s policy, but apart from the details, could look like this:
Tēnā koe [school name] Board,
I/We am hereby filing a complaint in regards to the harmful use of animals in classes at [school name]. The practise is making me/several students deeply concerned and I/we do not want to participate.
I/We already talked to [teacher name] and [principal name], but was/were turned down. Under the Education and Training Act 2020, article 127, 1, the Board’s objective is to ensure the school is a physically and emotionally safe place for all students and staff (b) and the school is inclusive of, and caters for, students with differing needs (c). We feel that the harmful use of animals is not in line with these objectives.
There is ample scientific evidence that these practises can be harmful to a student’s mental well-being. There are also plenty of scientific studies showing equal and often superior learning outcomes using alternative methods of teaching anatomy and physiology.
For resources and options of alternatives, see https://www.nzavs.org.nz/kind-education
Ngā mihi mahana,
These are just templates to get you started. It is always best to personalise such a letter and incorporate your individual situation and feelings.
If the adults in your life are still not supportive of your ethical standpoint, you can offer them to contact us directly. We can help getting them the right information and sourcing the best alternative methods for your situation (and also with funding in some circumstances). Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kaiako: teacher/instructor
- Mahi: work
- Whānau: family