SJ-O principal denies pundit charge of 'death panel' assignment

SJ-O principal denies pundit charge of 'death panel' assignment

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.

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DEB wrote on October 12, 2013 at 8:10 am

I'm sure that the death panel at my insurance company would be thrilled to see people desensitized to death panels. They deny coverage right and left, often causing quite a stir in our workplace. They've killed several of my coworkers and I really have to wonder why I have to pay $1500/mo for me and my family only to be assured that if we get sick we will be denied or dropped.

I guess they believe the myth that the government is going to do it for political reasons instead of a private insurance company doing it so that they can assure high CES pay and good stock dividends.

Hypocracy abounds, I guess. If an accountant does it to make sure it doesn't cost the company any money it is good. You'd just be prepared to die if get sick and you have private insurance coverage.

cwdog57 wrote on October 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

you think that's bad the first thing they ask at the doctors office is what kind of insurance you have. if you have medicaid you are already on a list of exclusions at carle including psychology  and dermatoligy services. i have been made to feel that me and my family are disposable humans for the last 20 years.

we are in the class of the working poor. my children are still eligible for medicaid but because of my income i was denied. does that make sense? i pay 25 dollars per month for their coverage. they live with me and i am the sole supporter. if i get sick where will they be?


lenniejarratt wrote on October 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm

The original article can be found at

The mother of the student given the death panel assignment agreed to discuss the issue with me. The reason she did was because of the misinformation provided to their local paper by Principal Brian Brooks.

serf wrote on October 12, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Typical tea party drivel.

sweet caroline wrote on October 12, 2013 at 11:10 pm

You're sounding like a stuck record, Serf.  It's becoming tiresome.

serf wrote on October 13, 2013 at 8:10 am

I calls 'em like I sees 'em, Sweety.  Just cause you're falling down that rabbit hole doesn't mean the rest of us are.

BillD wrote on October 14, 2013 at 6:10 am

St. Joseph, like any community has its' contingent of attention-deprived Tea Partiers who seek validation by creating "issues" where there are none.  Frequently these same complainers do little to help their community.  The concerned parent(s)  should step up and get involved in their schools and quit complaining to outside, self-promoting media-types like this guy.

I believe the principal and faculty at SJO to be honorable and competent people.  I tend to believe complainers are not.

Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"

Sometimes an assignment is just an assignment.



fuddrules wrote on October 14, 2013 at 6:10 pm

No, please, for the love of God, don't have her get more involved in the school.  Chaos will follow.

She should homeschool her children.  It will be best for everyone.

BillD wrote on October 15, 2013 at 6:10 am

Oh trust me, I don't want her involved at all, but it's basically a "put up or shut up" statement.  I apologize for suggesting it!

You are right, in this particular case, homeschooling her kids would be better for the community— I doubt it will do much for those kids.  Where will they learn critical thinking skills?

....don't answer that.