ST. JOSEPH — An assignment at St. Joseph-Ogden High School has created controversy.
The assignment, given to students in an introduction to social studies class, had students decide which 10 fictional characters would receive life-saving medical treatment.
Conservative pundit Lennie Jarratt of suburban Chicago claimed the school district was desensitizing students to "death panels." Fox News' Todd Starnes also picked up the story.
High school Principal Brian Brooks strongly disagrees.
"The assignment in question is not a 'death panel' assignment," he said. "The purpose of the assignment is to educate students about social values and how people in our society unfortunately create biases based off of professions, race, gender, etc."
Brooks said one of the primary purposes of the Introduction to Social Studies course is to expose the students to different areas of social studies. This particular assignment was out of the sociology unit of the course.
Brooks said the teacher's goal was to educate students on the fact that these social value biases exist, and that hopefully students will see things from a different perspective after the activity is complete.
"The teacher's purpose in the element of the assignment in question is an introduction, to get students emotionally involved in order to participate in the classroom discussion and to open their minds to the fact that they themselves have their own social biases," Brooks said. "The assignment has nothing to do with a 'death panel.'"
Brooks said no parents contacted the teacher or the school with concerns over the assignment.
Brooks said he is not sure how the national media found out about the assignment but believes it may have started on social media.
"My understanding is that a parent(s) had a concern with the assignment and posted it on Facebook. I assume it was leaked electronically to a media person at some point," he said.
Brooks said parents who are concerned with any assignment are urged to contact their child's teacher directly.
"That line of communication typically clears up any potential misunderstandings," he said.
Brooks said the issue and the way it handled has upset the teacher.
"The truly unfortunate aspect of all of this is that it has really torn up our teacher emotionally due to the way it was handled," he said. "If parents have concerns over an assignment in a classroom, we want that parent to contact the teacher and share their concerns. If they don't feel like it was resolved at that level, then they should contact me. None of this happened in this situation and the teacher was completely caught off guard and hurt by that. There was zero ill intention on the teacher's part. He cares deeply about kids, and is passionate about his job as an educator."
Brooks said the assignment may be changed in the future.
"The teacher and I have talked about using a different type of attention-getter in the future to lead into the main purpose of that assignment which is teaching students about social values, and the unfortunate biases that people have," he said.
The term "death panel" originated in 2009, while the Affordable Care Act was being debated and drafted in Congress. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin stated that a proposal to allow Medicare to pay for doctors to discuss living wills and end-of-life issues with patients was really an effort to establish "death panels" that would decide who was "worthy of health care." More recently, Palin has said the Independent Payment Advisory Board created in the law is really a "death panel" that will ration care.