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FOSS/Delta Policy Statement on Living Organisms in the Classroom

The FOSS Program endorses the National Science Teachers Association Guidelines for Responsible Use of Animals in the Classroom as they apply to elementary and middle school classrooms. Those guidelines state:

  • Observation and experimentation with living organisms give students unique perspectives of life processes that are not provided by other modes of instruction.
  • Studying animals in the classroom enables students to develop skills of observation and comparison, a sense of stewardship, and an appreciation for the unity, interrelationships, and complexity of life. This study, however, requires appropriate, humane care of the organisms. Teachers are expected to be knowledgeable about the proper care of organisms under study and the safety of their students.
  • Acquisition and care of animals must be appropriate to the species.
  • Student classwork and science projects involving animals must be under the supervision of a trained professional.
  • Teachers will adhere to local, state, and national laws, policies, and regulations regarding the organisms, including acquisition, care, and disposition.
  • Teachers must instruct students on safety precautions for handling live animals.
  • Plans for the future care and disposition of animals at the conclusion of the study must be developed and implemented.

To that end, the FOSS program, through Delta Education, provides detailed information on how to obtain organisms, how to prepare for their arrival, how to care for them in the classroom, and how to instruct students to properly handle each animal. The animals in the modules were selected because they are abundant, safe for students, easy to care for, and are hardy and survive well in classroom environments. FOSS selected organisms that were non-exotic, commonly available from local and regional suppliers, and, in some cases, found in the natural environments in many regions of the country. When investigations are carried out as described in the FOSS teacher guide, the insects, worms, crustaceans, snails, and fish are not harmed in any way.

The teacher guide describes humane and ethical options for the disposition of the organisms at the end of the module:

  • The organisms find a permanent home in the classroom. This is the ideal way to continue the study.
  • The organisms are passed on to the next teacher using the module.
  • Some students take the animals home (parental permission is required ahead of time).
  • The district may transfer the living organisms for study at another school. Living materials distribution centers are an ideal way to continue the care of organisms.
  • Organisms are returned to the environment from which they were collected (if appropriate).

FOSS does not advocate the release of organisms (plant or animal) into the environment if they were not collected from that environment. In some states, it is illegal to release organisms, even those indigenous to the area, without a permit. The intention of these laws is to protect native wildlife and the environment. Animals that were collected in a different locality, or were raised in the laboratory, might not survive if released, and more importantly, they often introduce new factors into the environment that are harmful to existing species. You and your students can check with the local fish and game experts and find out the regulations specific to your area.

The one FOSS organism that needs a special mention is the garden snail, Helix aspersa. The options for the disposition of this land snail are different. This organism is currently restricted and it is necessary for teachers to obtain a permit from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to allow a supplier to ship them across state lines for classroom study and to maintain them in the classroom if they come from out-of-state. One condition of the permit is that the snails are not released into the local environment. To release them is a violation of USDA regulations, and a federal offense. Be sure to read the specific information on land snails, GETTING A USDA PERMIT FOR LAND SNAILS, for more specific information on the regulations.

The most ethical and humane way to dispose of snails or other invertebrates if they can no longer be cared for by one of the options outlined above is to freeze them. This is a last resort, and only recommended if there is no possibility for maintaining the organisms.

Depending on the age and maturity of the students, teachers can deal with these legal and environmental issues as a class project and involve the students in contacting the fish and game to get the facts on the local regulations. If the students are too young to take on this responsibility, then the teacher should make the appropriate decision on behalf of the students.

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