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Student Challenging Order to Dissect Frog or Quit Biology

April 21, 1987

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Lots of high school students would like to avoid dissecting frogs in biology class, but not many are prepared to make a federal case of it.

Jenifer Graham is willing, and she has the backing of the Humane Society of the United States in her battle with school officials who she says told her she must either cut up a frog or get out of biology class.

The 15-year-old vegetarian and her lawyers have failed to persuade the Victor Valley High School principal to let her learn frog anatomy from a model or computer program instead of the real thing.

They’re scheduled to take their case to the School Board later this month, and failing that, they’re prepared to file a federal lawsuit, said O.J. Ramsey, the Sacramento attorney representing Jenifer free of charge.

″The thing with this dissection is that I’m not squeamish or emotional,″ Jenifer said Friday in a telephone interview from her home in Victorville, 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles. ″I’m not like that at all. I could sit there and watch them if I wanted to but I don’t want to have any part in it.″

She said she objects to the raising of captive animals, either for food or for research that involves unnecessarily killing or maiming. Jenifer said she became a vegetarian at age 10 under the guidance of her mother, who adheres to the principals of the Theosophical Society, a group that incorporates Christian, Hindu and Buddhist thinking.

Principal Julian Weaver said today, ″Our position is that this is a college-preparatory biology course and that all students enrolled in a college-preparatory biology course will be required to complete the dissection component of the course.″

Ramsey maintains the First Amendment protects Jenifer’s moral beliefs in the same way it safeguards freedom of religion.

In cases involving conscientious objectors to the draft, courts have equated firmly held moral beliefs with religion, he said, adding that Jenifer’s beliefs meet that standard. Ramsey said he knows of no state or federal court case involving a student’s moral objections to animal dissection.

Jenifer said Weaver has told her she will flunk biology unless she dissects the frog, a three-week project for the class. Her only alternative, she said, is to switch to a less rigorous life science class.

″I’m real interested in biology,″ she said, explaining her refusal to change classes. ″I would like to go into the science field when I get older.″

The national Humane Society has provided frog models and a computer program to take the place of dissection, said Roger Kindler, an attorney in the society’s Washington, D.C., offices. He said school officials in similar cases elsewhere have allowed students to use such study aids rather than actual dissection.

Jenifer said she’s already learned most of what the course requires using the school’s computer to run the program, called ″Operation Frog.″

″I have friends and stuff backing me up,″ she said. ″I think that’s one thing the school’s afraid of - that other students will start doing this. But I feel it should be an option.″