By Lauren Williams
8:15 PM PDT, October 26, 2012
At the urging of a nationwide animal rights group, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District will end in-classroom cat dissections at its high schools.
Only Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor High School were still using cat corpses in its anatomy lessons, said Charles Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education.
The school board did not issue an edict to discontinue the practice. The agreement was made among members of the high school science departments and the district, Hinman explained.
Science teachers will instead use electronic teaching tools in science lessons, said school board President Dave Brooks.
In June, a nonprofit, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, wrote to the district, informing it that some students at Newport Harbor High School had posed for photos with cat corpses and posted the images on Facebook.
The committee objected to using cat bodies in school laboratories, and the district notified the group on Oct. 18 that it would move away from using the animals. OC Weekly was first to report the change.
Brooks described the decision as a natural progression in 21st century education — one that can uses technology as a stand-in for older methods.
"[We're] taking something that is very negative and making it a very positive improvement in our district," he said.
The exact teaching tools used in the classrooms aren't clear, but school administrators said the district has time to work with each high school science department in finding the virtual dissection that best fits anatomy lessons.
"Basically, it's a total pilot program," Hinman said. "Dissections of cats [were] in late spring, so we have time."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, offered to fund $25,000 worth of virtual dissection software, he said.
The issue of cat dissections was first raised earlier in the year by a Harbor English teacher, Karen Coyne, who heads the Compassion in Action Club on campus.
Months before the Facebook photos surfaced, Coyne said she and her students in the compassion club urged the science department to distribute an information sheet to students about the psychological and monetary costs of dissecting animals.
"We had been involved since back in March," Coyne said. "The students were feeling uncomfortable having to dissect, and I didn't feel like I could do anything about it."
After months of meetings and talking with administrators, Coyne said the Facebook photos were published and the physicians committee became involved.
Student compassion club members are pleased with the new program, Coyne said.
"They're excited to see that persistence pays," she said.