PARK CITY, Utah – On November 15, 2021, Park City School District employees received a notice from Human Resources asking teachers not to discuss vaccinations in class.
This article was written by Max Kusher, editor of The Park City Prospector, Park City High School’s student newspaper.
According to several teachers, they have been instructed not to engage in conversations about vaccines and to redirect conversations to the classroom curriculum if the topic is brought up by students.
Mary-Sue Purzycki, a science teacher at Park City High School (PCHS), said the advisory appeared to be aimed at elementary and pre-secondary school classrooms, but should also be applied in PCHS classrooms.
“I think it was for the lower grades and not high school…I think it was the fact that someone got mad that people were saying you had to get vaccinated,” Purzycki said.
The Park City Prospector did not obtain a copy of the notice, but several teachers confirmed that the notice stated that vaccines were not part of the core curriculum and therefore should not be discussed in class. .
However, for some specialized high school health science classes such as biotechnology, EMT, and CNA, vaccines are part of the teaching standards.
“[The Biotechnology state standard] said to “evaluate the ethical, legal and social implications of biotechnology. For example, vaccines, genetically modified organisms, cloning and genetic engineering, ‘so that’s in my heart,’ Purzycki said.
Even though vaccines are part of the curriculum, Utah state laws allow school districts to omit basic standards if they choose.
According to Utah Title 53E-2-301, the state legislature intends that the mission of providing students with the best possible education be “achieved through a responsive education system that guarantees local school communities self-reliance , flexibility and customer choice, while holding them accountable for results.
Despite this, many of these specialty health science courses have required state or national exams that students must pass. These exams include questions that require a scientific understanding of vaccines.
Biotechnology is a “Vocational and Technical Education” (CTE) course sanctioned by an examination issued by the State at the end of the school year. There are several basic standards for this class that involve vaccinations, which means questions on the subject could potentially end up on a student’s exam.
“[The school district wasn’t] really thinking, honestly, about what we teach, especially in different specialized classes like biotech, CNA, and EMT,” Purzycki said.
The CNA and EMT certification courses that are offered in high school both have national-level certification exams, and according to Purzycki, it’s likely questions about vaccinations could end up on those exams.
“On the EMT test there are certainly questions about vaccines and vaccinations because that’s part of what we do, and I’m sure it’s the same on the CNA test which is also a national exam “, explained Purzycki.
So, while the state allows school districts to remove certain parts of the curriculum, that does not mean that those subjects will be removed from state and state level exams.
For non-biological science classes, this has not become as big an issue according to teachers.
Renee Pinkney, a U.S. government and AP psychology professor, said given the current political climate, vaccines would not be a topic she would discuss in her government classes, even if it were allowed.
“If it was five years ago, six years ago and we had a pandemic, like when we had swine flu… We talked about swine flu in terms of CDC recommendations and that kind of things, but the climate wasn’t nearly so polarized,” Pinkney said.
Pinkney said there is a norm in her US government class that revolves around tracking current events, but said there are other topics she would rather cover instead of vaccinations.
That being said, many teachers are still unsure if this was a formal policy that was officially adopted by the district or if it was just a suggestion.
“I don’t know if it’s been adopted as actual policy that the district has decided to take this language and say that as a district we’re not going to teach x, y, and z,” Purzycki said.